World’s Marine Scientists Call for Large-Scale “National Parks at Sea”

Scientific Statement Released for World Oceans Day

LONDON—More than 245 marine scientists from 35 countries, including the United Kingdom, are calling for the establishment of a worldwide system of very large, highly protected marine reserves as “an essential and long overdue contribution to improving stewardship of the global oceanic environment.”

While small marine reserves are known to protect some species, large reserves—comparable to large national parks on land—are necessary to better protect sea life in our oceans, which cover 71 percent of the planet.

By signing the statement, the experts endorsed the scientific case for designating very large, highly protected marine reserves and called on policymakers to take bolder action in establishing these areas. The statement, issued by Global Ocean Legacy, a project of the Pew Environment Group, was released today for World Oceans Day (8th June 2010).

“Extensive marine reserves are essential if we are to conserve the ocean’s resources,” said Professor Callum Roberts with the University of York. “As fish stocks decline, international fishing fleets are travelling farther and farther in search of unexploited fishing grounds, which are in turn depleted after a few years. If we wish to preserve the few unspoiled areas that we have left, then we must protect them now.”

Earlier this year, former U.K. Foreign Minister David Miliband designated the Chagos Islands, a group of 55 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, as the world’s largest no-take marine reserve. The Chagos Islands and their surrounding waters cover 210,000 square miles (544,000 square kilometers), an area twice the size of the U.K.

Overfishing, pollution and climate change are adversely affecting the health of the world’s oceans, and ultimately threatening the livelihoods, food security and economic development of millions of people. Very large reserves can help reduce these problems, according to a recently published book, The Unnatural History of the Sea, by Dr. Roberts.

“The designation of the Chagos Marine Protected Area by the last Government was a ground-breaking initiative which, in this International Year of Biodiversity, demonstrates the U.K.’s commitment to ocean conservation,” said Alistair Gammell with the Pew Environment Group. “Establishing large marine reserves is relatively inexpensive and is a massively positive investment for the future, which otherwise may have significantly reduced ocean resources that are unable to recover.”

Less than 0.5 percent of the world’s oceans are fully protected from extractive or destructive activities. Large, no-take marine reserves have been shown to blunt the effects of excessive commercial fishing by offering a refuge to sea life to breed and spawn, providing for healthier fisheries as the fish swim into surrounding areas, and thus ensuring more resilient coastal economies. Because the ecosystems in ocean reserves are healthier, they are also more resistant to the damage caused by pollution, climate change and a wide range of other development activities.

Global Ocean Legacy, a project of the Pew Environment Group in partnership with the Oak Foundation, Lyda Hill, the Robertson Foundation and the Sandler Foundation, strives to protect and preserve Earth’s most important and unspoiled oceanic ecosystems. Its goal is to work with local citizens and governments to secure the designation of a handful of world-class, no-take reserves that will provide ecosystem scale benefits and help conserve our global marine heritage.

To date, Global Ocean Legacy’s work with local partners and governments has been pivotal in the designation of some of the world’s largest ocean reserves, including the Papah?naumoku?kea Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument in the Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands, and the British Chagos Protected Area in the Indian Ocean. Collectively, these areas contain more than 70 percent of the world’s no-take waters.

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MPA, Marine, Marine reserve, No-take marine reserve