More people rely on our ocean for food, energy, transport, recreation and other natural resources than any other time in history. As resources on land become more depleted, many are looking to the seas as the new frontier for exploration and exploitation. Technology advancements are also allowing us to tap ocean resources as never before.
As the global population soars – and with that a growing middle class that consumes more seafood, energy and resources than ever before – demands on the ocean, coasts and the resources they provide are stressing our seas to their limits and putting the world’s most vulnerable people at risk. Sustaining our species and growing our economy do not need to come at the cost of a healthy ocean. Development that is planned, based in science and inspired by sustainability can lead to a future where people and oceans thrive together.
One of the most effective tools to ensure the sustainability of our ocean uses is a Marine Protected Area (MPA). MPAs are places where nature comes first, where conservation of marine resources have been secured in the long term, typically in a marine park or reserve. They range from small sites, often established by local communities, to vast tracts of ocean space, like two recent MPAs in the Seychelles covering 81,000 square miles. Likewise the objectives of marine protected areas may be highly variable. Some are declared simply to reduce threats from one or a few damaging activities, while others are strictly protected, for example against fishing or seabed mining.
The outcomes of protection can be extraordinary – marine reserves where fishing is banned can quickly see a doubling in the quantity of fish within their boundaries, but fishers too may celebrate as the spillover can greatly enhance overall fishing benefits nearby.
Aside form MPAs that we’ve helped secure from the Caribbean to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, The Nature Conservancy works to protect both nature and nature’s value to people – securing carbon stocks in mangrove forests; the natural breakwaters of coral reefs that prevent storm damage; and the great fish factories provided by flourishing oyster beds, seagrasses and saltmarshes. By securing and restoring the value of nature to people we can secure livelihoods and even save lives. There can be no surer way of focusing attention and growing the support for establishing marine protected areas in every coast and ocean.