Marine Ecosystem Pledges Unmet, Data Shows By
Countries have made little progress in meeting their obligations to protect fragile marine ecosystems under the international Convention on Biological Diversity, new United Nations data shows.
Just 1.6 percent of the oceans has been set aside for marine protected areas, according to new data provided to The Times by the World Conservation Monitoring Center, part of the United Nations Environment Program. That is far below the 10 percent that nations had agreed to set aside by 2020 at a meeting in Japan in October 2010.
The latest data, while disappointing, could help to shape the debate next month at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20, in Rio de Janeiro. Ocean conservation will be an important topic at the conference, whose two main themes are ”a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” and an “institutional framework for sustainable development.”
If nations are going to keep their promises and the needs of a booming global population are to be met, the statistics ”point to an urgency of decisive and defining action now rather than in a few years’ time,” said Nick Nuttall, a spokesman for the United Nations Environment Program. The world population is expected to expand from seven billion now to nine billion by 2050.
Marine protected areas and other such reserves provide relief to ecosystems threatened by overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and global warming. But creating them is a political challenge; closing an area to activities like fishing and oil exploration can have immediate effects on jobs and investment, even when the longer-term environmental argument is compelling.
Just three-hundredths of 1 percent of the high seas, which make up 61 percent of the world oceans, have so far been set aside, the new data show. Since nations do not actually control that space, they must work cooperatively to assure its protection, and there has been little progress to date.
Among the world’s maritime states, the United States has been relatively aggressive, creating about 1,600 marine protected areas.
One initiative currently under way aims to create what would be the world’s largest network of marine reserves in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica. Currently, the largest such area is the 210,000-square-mile Chagos Islands marine reserve in the Indian Ocean.
For now, the World Conservation Monitoring Center says, just 4 percent of the marine areas under national jurisdictions (stretching 200 nautical miles from their coasts) are covered. That includes 3.5 percent of nations’ exclusive economic zones, which stretch 12 to 200 nautical miles offshore. The picture is slightly better for coastal waters, those stretching to 12 nautical miles offshore, with about 7.2 percent protected.
A breakdown of 232 marine ecoregions showed that by 2010, only 30 such areas had 10 percent set aside for protection, the 2020 target of the biodiversity convention, while the majority, 137, had less than 1 percent of their area set aside for protection.
”Although the proportion of marine ecoregions that meet the 10 percent target has increased from 3 percent to 13 percent within 20 years, it seems unlikely that the 10 percent target can be met in all ecoregions by 2020,” the World Conservation Monitoring Center said.