Wild plants and animals are vital sources of food for the rural poor – and in the case of marine fisheries, for almost the entire world. Wild plant species are also important sources of genetic diversity for the world’s major crop species. Failure to safeguard these natural resources has potentially disastrous implications for world food security.

Safeguarding crop security

Wild relatives of crop species are important sources of new, desirable genetic traits for cultivated crops, such as disease and pest resistance. The same is true for genetically diverse traditional crop varieties (or landraces) adapted to specific local conditions.

The importance of this genetic diversity cannot be underestimated. Almost all modern crop varieties have been improved using genetic diversity derived directly from a wild relative. Between 1976 and 1980 in the US alone, this contributed an estimated US$340 million per year to the farm economy in terms of increased yields and disease resistance.
Potatoes are very diverse in the Andes, where over 100 varieties are sometimes grown in a single ... 
© WWF / Diego M. GARCES
Potatoes are very diverse in the Andes, where over 100 varieties are sometimes grown in a single valley.
© WWF / Diego M. GARCES
But like most species on our planet, wild relatives of crops are threatened by human activities. In addition, the widespread use of genetically uniform modern crop varieties has caused agricultural crops to lose about 75% of their genetic diversity in the last century.

This lost genetic diversity reduces the potential for modern crops to adapt to, or be bred for, changing conditions – and so directly threatens long-term food security.

Protected areas are important for maintaining the remaining genetic diversity of wild crop species. Many also contain considerable areas of agricultural land with numerous unique landraces that have been maintained by farmers for millennia. By conserving plant diversity, protected areas also serve as reservoirs of wild genetic resources as well as sites for continuing evolution for the relatives of domesticated plants.

Helping to restore and maintain fish stocks

Marine fisheries contribute to the food supply, economy, and health of many nations. Seafood products are among the most widely traded commodities, worth billions of dollars annually, while fisheries directly employ over 38 million people. In addition, one billion people rely on marine fish as an important source of protein.

However, massive overfishing has resulted in over 75% of the world’s fisheries now being fully exploited, overexploited, depleted, or recovering from depletion. This grave situation threatens food security and livelihoods around the world.

By protecting spawning grounds, nursery grounds, and other important fish habitats, marine protected areas (MPAs) can help reverse this by providing essential safe havens where young fish can grow to maturity and reproduce before they are caught.

Allowing fish to grow large within MPAs has another benefit – big fish produce more eggs. And decreased fishing mortality in protected areas leads to spillover of fish into surrounding areas, and so more fish to catch in these areas.

MPAs can also be established as fisheries management tools to help with the sustainable management of fish stocks, or with their restoration. Such fisheries MPAs can be permanent or non-permanent, gear type specific, fish species specific, and/or vessel type or size specific.