From 16-19 June 2014, governments gathered for the second intersessional “BBNJ” (or United Nations Ad Hoc Open-Ended Informal Working Group to Study Issues Relating to the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Marine Biological Diversity Beyond Areas of National Jurisdiction) meeting of the UN to discuss a new high seas biodiversity agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Looking to illustrate the importance of implementing Marine Protected Areas (areas of the oceans that are protected for a conservation purpose) otherwise known as MPAs, the High Seas Alliance and Pew Charitable Trusts organized a side event on June 19 at the United Nations.
The event, moderated by Lisa Speer, Director of the International Oceans Program at Natural Resources Defense Council, included a panel of science and policy experts in the field with presentations by: Charlotte Vick, Mission Blue and Google Earth “Explore the Ocean” curator, Dr. Grorud-Colvert, Ph.D., Marine Ecologist at Oregon State University, and Kristina Gjerde, High Seas Policy Advisor for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The High Seas Alliance showcased a visual journey of the high seas with photographs by leading marine photojournalists generously provided by the International League of Conservation Photographers. Charlotte Vick presented the high seas photo exhibit describing many high seas species that act as “connectors” among us, and that “other species on earth are like family to many of us.” She highlighted the risks presented to these species in the absence of MPAs, with Whale sharks currently being estimated to be worth $7M per fish to the global tourism economy.
Dr. Grorud-Colvert, who leads The Science of Marine Reserves, summarized her research finding that marine reserves usually boost the abundance, diversity, and size of marine species living within their borders. Notably, the difference in “no take” marine reserves (there are currently 124 no take MPA reserves in place at the moment) and partial protected MPAs is significant because full protection clearly provides more benefits than lower levels of protection. Moreover, long-term protection results in many more benefits to fish populations because certain long-lived animals and coral reefs may take decades to centuries to recover from human exploitation. Pointing to a case study from the Isle of Man (United Kingdom) she stated MPAs after 14 yrs of protection had 8 times more density, 11 times more biomass. For scallops in particular she noted that 50% of them were larger and more mature.
ristina Gjerde presented a policy overview of MPAs, highlighting the global commitments that have already been made over the last 30 years, most recently, through the CBD Aichi Target 11 in 2010. Highlighting the carbon sequestration capabilities of the high seas, she explained that they store 500 million tons of carbon a year. She noted that while sectoral approaches are important, they are insufficient because they are usually short-term, lack a mechanism to ensure coordination, and lack common criteria or scientific advice. Ms. Gjerde concluded that an implementing agreement would provide a specific mandate through which to submit MPA proposals, and provide a mechanism for international endorsement of agreed management measures.
Concluding the discussion, Moderator Lisa Speer fielded a number of questions from the audience, commenting that “the high seas is a reservoir of amazing species, and when they are fully protected, they can recover much faster with robust results. We have the science, we know where the areas are, and we have managed them for decades within our own zones. We need to now provide the same protection globally.”
For further information about Marine Protected Areas please read: