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Recipes for Ocean Health: Protected Areas on the Menu

Report from World Parks Congress 2014

Our oceans are threatened.. but you knew that already. Harrison Ford certainly does. So instead of belaboring that, let’s talk about cooking.

Or more accurately, what we should do for our oceans. What’s the recipe for success? How can we cook up a storm (a non-life-threatening storm, that is) to combine all the things we’ve learned about ocean conservation into effective overall solutions for each place that we work in? Certainly, well-managed marine protected areas (MPAs) can be key ingredients in this recipe. To find out more, I traveled to Sydney in November for the World Parks Congress, a once in a decade opportunity to discuss the progress made and future directions for protected areas globally.

IUCN World Parks Congress Sydney 2014 opening ceremony 

The marine theme had an unprecedented geographic profile this time around – much broader  than ten years earlier in Durban; so much so that National Geographic picked “Protect the oceans” as their number one takeaway from the Congress.

From traditional cultural recognition such as the Pacific voyagers entering Sydney in their vaka moana with three heads of state on board, to a high-tech collaboration between SkyTruth, Oceana and Google on the Global Fishing Watch, a live ‘seahorse hunt’ with divers in Sydney harbour, and a gorgeous IMAX film showcasing the underwater wonders of Indonesia, the marine community once again demonstrated how vibrant, innovative, and just damned cool it is to be part of team ocean. This really is a fun, creative and impressive group to work with!

View of vaka moana from Murray St., Sydney 

Firm commitments to marine conservation were made by several governments: Gabon announced a network of new marine protected areas covering 23% of its marine waters; Russia will expand its marine protected area network to cover 17 million hectares; Bangladesh will create the country’s first Marine Protected Area; Brazil committed to protect 5% of its marine waters; and French Polynesia is working to create a large-scale marine protected area initiative in the Austral Islands.

We also saw compelling momentum in the Northern Mozambique Channel, a key marine conservation priority: the Union of Comoros announced a new 5% marine protected area, Madagascar and South Africa both pledged to triple their area under marine protection by 2030, and France committed to protect more mangroves.

Even these encouraging and welcome advances still fall short of the MPA coverage target agreed to under the Promise of Sydney. Heated debate arose over this, with many competing viewpoints – with ultimately a recommendation set to pursue the ‘ultimate aim’ of “a fully sustainable ocean, at least 30% of which has no-extractive activities". 

The other recommendations are at least as important, emphasizing the need for effective management of MPAs (the IUCN Green List is a promising new initiative focusing on this); pursuing an international instrument for the high seas; MPAs’ roles in tackling climate change and illegal fishing; emphasizing the human benefits of MPAs and the need to truly engage local communities in their management; and integrating MPAs into the broader seascape through large-scale marine management initiatives which combine protected areas with other management tools.

On this last point, we’re celebrating ’10 years of Seascapes’ this year - a decade of lessons on how to implement ecosystem based management in large marine spaces – a recipe book for all who are moving in this direction.

Knitted whale on display at WPC.

Many governments are doing just that, not only by declaring new MPAs but also by thinking more holistically about their ocean resources as they strive to take advantage of their bounty. We can help countries do that in a sustainable and smart way, using all the ingredients and recipes we have at our disposal – a diverse array of MPA types, a suite of fisheries management tools, capacity building processes, innovative funding mechanisms, and initiatives to simmer these together such as   the nested saucepan set of the Seascapes initiative, the frying pan of the Coral Triangle Initiative, or the industrial-sized oven of the Pacific Oceanscape. Ok, so maybe I’m taking this analogy too far, but you get my point:

Let's get cooking.

Keith Lawrence tweets about MPAs, #WPCSydney, and more (but not about cooking) as @keithl007