Marine life is collapsing right in front of our eyes. Ocean acidification has been causing coral reefs to die for decades. Coral reefs play a vital role in marine ecosystems, giving fish and other marine life a place to call home. Overfishing and pollution have caused roughly half of the total fish population to disappear since the 70s, with some larger fish species declining by up to 90%. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be no more fish left in the ocean if we continue taking from it without giving back. With an empty ocean, humans cannot survive. Marine Protected Areas may be the solution we need.
What is a Marine Protected Area?
A Marine Protected Area (or MPA), is a designated area of the ocean that is protected from any harmful human activities like fishing and tourism. MPAs can include nature reserves, seagrass beds, shipwrecks, mangroves, and open water, among several others. There are 4 levels of MPAs with different degrees of regulations. The least strict MPA is considered multiple use, which allows extractive activities such as fishing with some regulation. No-take MPAs, or marine reserves, allow people to use the area but prohibit any sort of extractive or destructive activity. The third type of MPA is a rare one called no-impact. No-impact areas also allow human use, but extraction, disposing of pollutants, installing materials, and disruption to the environment of any sort is prohibited. The strictest MPA (and also very rare) is a no-access MPA in which all access to the area is prohibited. In some cases, research may be conducted in these no-access areas. Just over 6% of the world’s ocean is currently protected under an MPA, with less than 2% being a no-take area.
Why Do We Need MPAs?
The oceans are dying at an alarming rate, half of marine life has disappeared in the past few decades due to human activity. Marine Protected Areas have been proven to rebuild these dwindling ecosystems. Removing human practices including fishing and diving allows marine species of all kinds to restore themselves and thrive. Reefs also benefit greatly from MPAs. Destructive fishing operations (dredging, trawling, etc) essentially bulldoze reefs, killing them and making them uninhabitable. By implementing no-take or above MPAs, these practices are banned and allow reefs to flourish once again. Establishing more and more MPAs will cause all marine life to bounce back from the vast annihilation we did unto it. The ocean is responsible for producing half of the world’s oxygen and without it, life on earth cannot exist.
Not only will populations rise again, but with more MPAs in place, more (and better) research can be conducted in these areas to help species thrive even more.
We are headed in the right direction and have come a long way over the years in terms of Marine Protected Areas. Despite this progress, we still have a long ways to go. Many scientists state that at least 30% of high seas need to be protected to reverse all the damage we have caused, and continuously cause. Problems arise here as no one country has authority over these parts of the ocean. However, negotiations in the UN for a global ocean treaty began in 2018, which would provide a large amount of protection to the high seas. Governments were meant to meet in April of 2020 to come to an agreement, but this meeting unfortunately was put on hold due to the unexpected arrival of Coronavirus. It is unclear when or if this treaty will reach a resolution, in the meantime we can continue to educate ourselves and those around us of the importance of protecting the oceans.
A little bit goes a long way.