Since April, 3.6 million square kilometres of ocean have been designated as marine protected areas. This means that more than 5 per cent of the world’s oceans are now protected.
The new area protected since April is larger in size than India, an unprecedented area of ocean to be designated as a marine protected area (MPA).
Erik Solheim, head of the UN’s environment agency, called this “tremendous news”, adding it “should give those fighting tirelessly to conserve the world’s oceans and seas an enormous sense of achievement”.
During the UN Biodiversity Conference in Cancun last week, Mexico pledged to preserve an additional 650,000 square kilometres of land and sea – roughly 25 per cent of its territorial waters. The commitment includes establishing the Mexican Caribbean Biosphere Reserve, an area of 57,000 square kilometres.
Also at the conference, Cambodia committed to nearly double its number of protected areas, which now include one-third of the country’s land, while the United Arab Emirates indicated its intention to declare 18 new protected areas, four of which are marine.
Five “mega MPAs” were recently created off the coasts of Chile, Palau, Hawaii and the Pitcairn Islands and St. Helene’s in the South Atlantic, bringing the global total percentage of protected seas to 12.7 per cent. And a new campaign has been launched to secure MPAs in vulnerable areas of Antarctica over the next three years, with the goal of bringing the total protected area to nearly 7 million square kilometres, an area the size of Australia.
But as Mr Solheim pointed out, it is “not just about the size of the area under protection, but also about where those zones are located and how strong their protection really is”.
For instance, there is an unequal representation of ecosystems and areas rich in biodiversity, and only one third of the world’s marine eco-regions offer more than 10 per cent of their areas protection.