During the month of August 2014, the United Nations Patron of the Oceans will be the first person to undertake long distance swims in each of the Seven Seas: the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean, Black, Red, Arabian and North Sea.
Why this, and why now? To highlight the need for and importance of Marine Protected Areas – essentially ‘national parks’ in the seas – and to have each of the countries he visits add this to their agenda. Our hope is that all the maritime nations in the world will be encouraged to do the same with their waters.
We have done it on land, we can do it in the seas.
But the need is urgent.
To inspire people around the world to protect and preserve our oceans,
and all that live in them, for a peaceful and sustainable future.
The world would be a very different place. I doubt there would be bison left. I doubt we would have many elephant or rhinos.
Our wilds would be stark and barren.
These terrestrial national parks were created about 100 years ago. But the legislators at the time forgot about the world’s oceans. We are now in a situation where our oceans desperately need protecting. They face serious threats. Pollution, climate change, habitat destruction and overfishing have pushed these marine ecosystems to their very limits.
Unless we do something now, we are going to pass important tipping points; some of which may already have been passed.
If we don’t do something big and ambitious, our children will not benefit from the beautiful biodiversity of the world’s oceans.
Lest we forget, we rely entirely on the oceans for our survival. The very air we breathe, the water we drink, the rain that feeds our crops, the fish that are the primary food source of protein for millions, the climate that envelopes all of us … they all depend on a healthy ocean.
Which is where Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) come in.
A Marine Protected Area is a geographically defined area that is regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives.
While land-based National Parks started to be designated in the 1800s, protection of the marine environment has lagged behind, leaving a legacy of under-protection in coastal areas, and even more so on the High Seas.
Approximately 13% of the world’s land lies in a protected area, but less than 3% of the ocean’s surface is protected, and nearly all of that in coastal areas.
Like the ‘National Parks’ on land, ‘Marine Protected Areas’ (MPAs) will take slightly different forms in different countries, and may have differing aims and management systems. These can range from stringent controls in ‘No Take Zones’, which prohibit removal of any wildlife, to ‘Multi-Use areas’, which may permit some extractive industries.
What’s going on in the world’s oceans?
The oceans are designed to be self-regulating: they are watery ecosystems that developed over millions of years to exist in perfect balance. The key threats to the oceans today are a direct result of human activities which pollute, denude and destroy ocean habitats and kill the wildlife they sustain.
Put a child on a boat in the ocean today, and it would be hard for her to imagine what it looked like 100 years ago. Sailors’ tales and old whaling log books tell of seas teaming with life, with a seemingly endless number of fish, whales, turtles and birds.
What we see today is a mere shadow of their former glory.
Population after population of marine species has crashed as humans have over exploited them. Many species, such as the mighty blue whale, the European eel, the common skate and the monk seal are down to a tiny fraction of their former numbers. In some areas, the seabed is a wasteland in comparison to the rich habitats that once existed. The devastating truth is that we don’t even know what we have lost.
But all is not lost.
Despite this momentous destruction of sea-life and habitats, there is still much in the sea to rejoice, enjoy and protect. And we must never underestimate nature’s extraordinary ability to regenerate, given the right circumstances and environment.
What remains is ever more precious as species after species teeter on the brink of extinction. We must act now to protect and restore our marine ecosystems, so that they once again team with abundant wildlife and are able to survive and withstand whatever challenges the future holds.
The IUCN is the world’s largest conservation organisation, and considers protected areas to be the most successful measures that can be implemented for the conservation of biodiversity. Join us in making sure this happens, in the Seven Seas, and beyond.
Where wildlife thrives:MPAs protect marine wildlife and important habitats, allowing them to be as healthy and natural as possible, with their own unique intrinsic value.
Building resistance and resilience:Healthy systems are better able to cope with disease outbreaks, global warming, pollution and storms and other impacts that are on the rise. we can’t always predict or prevent.
Natural wilderness: MPAs allow us to view, enjoy and research wildlife in its most natural state, and to protect species that may have important future uses, such as potential medical cures.
Financial benefits: The increase in wildlife seen in some MPAs can boost local economies, through sustainable tourism, fisheries and harvesting timber from mangroves.
Food security: Fish populations can increase within MPAs and beyond, supporting local fisheries, which are an important source of food for millions of people.
Saving our selves: MPAs can support our oceans and coasts in a range of often over-looked services they provide to us, such as storing carbon, and dampening storms and floods.
Re-seeding the oceans: As fish and their larvae thrive in MPAs, they may spill-out beyond the MPA boundaries and support marine ecosystems in the wider environment.