As concern increases on the state of natural resources and the degradation of the world’s oceans, it is critical to be clear on how countries are progressing with conservation actions for the environment. New guidance issued this week at IUCN‘s World Conservation Congress on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) aims to significantly improve ocean protection efforts.
Guidelines for Applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas aim to make clear what is most significant and of highest priority in MPAs and will help countries more accurately detail their successes. The new guidelines will define MPAs—preventing the trend of fisheries advisory bodies claiming that area mechanisms that exploit fish are MPAs. Also, pipeline areas and wind farms will not be considered MPAs unless they are set up following specific guidelines, with clear long-term objectives for nature conservation.
“It is time to stop pretending more of the ocean is protected than it actually is. Understanding what is protected in the ocean and how it is protected is of paramount importance in driving global conservation efforts forward,” says Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice-Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “The guidance we are issuing aims to make clear the most important aspects of marine protected areas and will help countries more accurately detail their successes. Without this information it is difficult to hold the process of determining marine protected areas accountable.”
IUCN defines a protected area as: A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values. This definition will make it much harder for actions that involve exploitation, such as fisheries, to be claimed as MPAs that protect the ocean. If marine areas involve extraction and have no defined long-term goals of conservation and ocean recovery, they are not MPAs.
The IUCN categories for protected areas are applicable to all types of protected areas, however, because there are fewer numbers of MPAs compared to terrestrial protected areas, there is often less experience and understanding, and application of the categories often becomes inconsistent. For example, of the MPAs that have been categorised, about 50% are considered to have been wrongly allocated because the name of the MPA (e.g. National Park, Sanctuary, etc.) has been used to determine the category, rather than the management objectives. Confusion tends to arise when sites have been incorrectly assigned on the basis of activities that occur, rather than using the stated management objectives. Also, where protected areas include both land and sea, the objectives for the marine component of the protected area rarely are considered when assigning the site’s category.
“As we edge closer towards conditions that seem to signal a major ocean extinction event what we need are proper, meaningful conservation actions that move towards restoring the ocean, its resilience and its health,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “In recent years pressure to deliver success stories has resulted in false claims of vast areas of the ocean being properly protected. It is time to be realistic about our definition of MPAs.”