Marine problems: inadequate protection

Only 0.6% of the world’s oceans have been designated as protected - compared to almost 13% of our planet’s land area.
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Matalascañas seaside resort encroaches on Coto Doñana National Park, Spain. Uncontrolled building is just one threat to marine habitats around the world.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

Not enough protection and lack of proper management

Marine species and habitats do not exist in isolation. They are part of an intricate web of ocean life where the health of one species is dependant on the health of the entire system. Therefore it makes sense to protect the system as a whole rather than looking solely at single species or one patch of reef.

Yet, of the small number of marine protected areas that have been established, most exist in isolation.

Worse, the vast majority suffer from little or no management at all. Fewer than 10% achieving their management goals and objectives, almost all are open to tourism and recreation, and 90% are open to fishing.

Conflicting priorites


Marine park managers - and the governments and non-profit organizations that support them - must often juggle conflicting national and local priorities coming from a variety of sectors, such as industry, artisanal fishers, commercial fishers, tour operators, local town councils, farmers, and scientific researchers.

In addition, park managers often have extremely limited budgets and staff, and frequently rely on community participation and volunteers to carry out much of the essential work.

This means that in most cases, park staff cannot adequately patrol marine reserves, carry out essential research, or implement effective conservation strategies.

Sensitive habitats at risk


Of particular concern is the current lack of protection for a number of sensitive habitats and areas. These include:




Why create MPAs?

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are an essential insurance policy for the future of both marine life and local people.

They safeguard the ocean’s rich diversity of life and provide safe havens for endangered species, as well as commercial fish populations. They can offer alternative sources of income for local people, for example through tourism and park management. Well-designed networks of ecologically representative MPAs can also allow better security against environmental change, such as global warming.

The term Marine Protected Area applies to many different types of marine parks and reserves with different levels of protection and a wide range of activities allowed or prohibited within their boundaries. An MPA network should provide a balance between no-take zones (and other restricted use areas) and areas of multiple use.

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