WWF urges new measures as protected areas fail high seas wildlife
The 15 OSPAR Convention countries and the European Union adopted the world’s first network of high seas marine protected areas around the Mid-Atlantic ridge in 2010. Despite this recognition, there are currently no measures to control harmful activity in the areas except a temporary closure to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems on the seafloor from bottom fishing. Even this measure is thwarted in some locations.
Fishing of deep water and pelagic stocks remains unrestricted, as do maritime transport and potential extraction of minerals from the seabed. The lack of protection puts a wealth of wildlife at risk, including deep-water sharks and rays, peculiar squids and octopuses, sponge aggregations and cold-water coral reefs.
“WWF expects OSPAR and its contracting parties to scale up their efforts to draw up the necessary conservation measures,” says Stephan Lutter, WWF’s International Marine Policy Officer and observer to OSPAR. “Parties need to agree on a roadmap and have it in place by 2016 at the latest.”
WWF recognized the creation of the Mid-Atlantic protected areas in 2010 by awarding the organization's highest conservation honor, the Gift to the Earth. The protected area network comprises seven sites covering over 480,000 square kilometers of ocean. In addition to the diversity of resident species, plankton-rich currents serve as feeding grounds for migratory seabirds, cetaceans and turtles.
“Swift collective action to secure this outstanding Gift to the Earth is sadly needed,” says Lutter. “So far, it has been hampered by national vanities, lack of commitment in regulatory bodies and the absence of a global instrument to protect biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.”
In addition to the lack of protective measures, harmful bottom trawling continues in the high seas of the Josephine Seamount Marine Protected Area, which covers 20,000 square kilometers on Portugal's outer continental shelf.
“Activities around the Josephine Seamount run contrary to the conservation objectives of OSPAR and contravene UN resolutions on sustainable fishing. This high seas protected area is still a mere ‘paper park’,” says Lutter.
The upcoming OSPAR meeting will take place near Sintra, Portugal, where environment ministers adopted the first legally binding provisions to protect biological diversity and ecosystems in 1998. Progress has been made since that time to identify species and habitats under threat and decline. While further conservation measures are required, a network of marine protected areas covering over 5 per cent of the North-East Atlantic has been established.