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We Are Not Doing Enough for the Oceans

Kiara Vallier   |   April 29, 2016

Learning about the ocean can easily turn from amazement and wonder to doubt and hopelessness. Joy can turn to despair as one reads more and more about the changing conditions of the Earth’s waters and the risks facing them. Of course, the organizations, individuals and groups working to conserve and protect the oceans are plentiful, but are the current targets and goals helping?

Ocean News and Technology recently featured an article that explored Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and questioned the current United Nations goal that has a target of 10% ocean protection by 2020. While the concept of MPAs has been widely accepted among groups who work for, by and with the ocean, the article in Ocean News and Technology was not suggesting that protected areas are not a solution. It actually suggests that the current goal of 10% protection is not enough.

The article surrounds a recent study, completed by Professor Callum Roberts and Dr. Bethan O’Leary from the University of York, indicating that a more effective goal is around 30% ocean protection. The study reviewed more than 100 earlier studies that focus on topics ranging from protecting wildlife to supporting fisheries. While the studies were all focused on smaller ocean areas, over half of them reported that in order to reach the desired goals on which they were focused, 30 percent or more of the considered area needed protection.

Professor Roberts, of the Environment Department at York, said: “There’s been huge interest and controversy over how much of the sea we really need to protect in order to safeguard life there and the benefits it provides to humanity. The science says we should raise our ambitions and protect something of the range of 30 to 40 percent of the oceans from exploitation and harm.”

While there are still disagreements pertaining to how much of the world’s oceans should be under marine protection, the positive effects of marine protected areas are seen across the wide variety of studies examined. While the study by Professor Roberts and Dr. O’Leary was not shared with the goal of providing a target or specific goal; it is useful in determining next steps for ocean protection.

““What we’ve done is to extrapolate from their results, to blend the results for a whole variety of different approaches that people have taken, and to come up with a big-picture figure,” Professor Roberts said. “The answer isn't a few percent of the sea, which is what we have protected right now. It's a few tens of percent of the sea. The UN 10% by 2020 target is politically ambitious, but it is only a waypoint, not the endpoint for effective ocean management.””

Currently 6% of the Earth’s oceans are protected and United Nations member countries are working on their goal of 10% by 2020. While a step in the right direction, based on this research, it seems that higher goals may need to be set.

To read the full article and learn more about the research check it out here.

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