New research commissioned by WWF shows that protecting oceans is good for both the economy and the planet – yielding potential increases in jobs, resources and services. The research shows that for every dollar spent on establishing areas of marine protection (knowns as Marine Protected Areas or MPAs) – that there could be at least a triple in benefits returned through factors like employment, coastal protection, carbon storage and fisheries.
These are important findings, given that later this year, a new global agenda will be decided upon to guide countries for the next 15 years in terms of development pathways, as part of the UN post-2015 sustainable development agenda. WWF’s analysis recommends that the agreement include strong targets and indicators for the ocean, and commitments to coherent policy, financing, trade and technology frameworks to restore and protect ocean ecosystems.
The global UNFCCC climate conference later in the year to forge a new global agreement on climate change is another critical opportunity to commit the action, resources, and leadership necessary that can contribute to ocean health.
How much of the global oceans are protected?
Major threats facing the oceans include overfishing, pollution, sedimentation, and habitat destruction. Warming seas and increased acidification caused by climate change are expected to have devastating impacts on coral reefs and other important ocean systems.
Current international targets for ocean protection range from 10 per cent by 2020 through 30 per cent protection by 2030. At present, less than 4 per cent of the ocean is designated for protection, with many MPAs lacking effective implementation and management.
“The ocean is central to all of our lives and we need to be both its stewards and its managers. A healthy ocean safeguards our coasts, stores carbon, creates employment and feeds families,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “Marine protected areas can have the double impact of contributing to a healthy ocean and creating important economic opportunities.”
How much of the oceans need to be protected to ensure a viable future
When properly designed and managed, ecologically coherent networks of MPAs form safe havens for marine life. The areas protect and restore habitats and species resulting in a more resilient ocean better prepared to withstand the assault of climate change. When implemented in unison with sustainable fisheries management regimes and measures to minimise pollution, MPAs provide a solid basis for healthy marine ecosystems both locally and regionally.
Existing protected areas in regions like the Mediterranean, the Coral Triangle and coastal Africa, demonstrate how people can benefit from increased ocean protection. Locally managed marine areas in Fiji demonstrate that MPAs can reduce poverty, strengthen governance and benefit human health and gender equality.
A WWF-commissioned study produced by Amsterdam’s VU University, modelling MPA expansion at both the 10 per cent and 30 per cent target levels. The report found that increased protection of critical habitats could result in net benefits of between US$490 billion and US$920 billion accruing over the period 2015-2050. WWF recommends 30 per cent global coverage of MPAs by 2030 in order to secure the most complete benefits for people and the ocean.
“We cannot continue to overstrain and underinvest in the ocean,” said Lambertini. “The ocean is collapsing before our eyes, but the good news is that we have the tools to fix it. It is possible for the ocean to make strong contributions to lives and livelihoods while we also secure its habitats and biodiversity for future generations.”
How to get involved in protecting the oceans
There are many organisations around the world that are helping to protect oceans – through research, advocacy and awareness raising, education, engagement with governments and business, innovative social entrepreneurship and technology applications, and campaigns. You can get involved in ocean protection by supporting one of these organisation and by engaging in the post-2015 sustainable development goals process to make sure that governments make (and keep) strong commitments for ocean protection.