Marine Protected Areas Aren’t Just For Sea Life

     71% of the Earth’s surface is ocean, with 97% of the planet’s water dwelling in oceans. The oceans contain 50-80% of all life on Earth and yet only an estimated 1% of the world’s oceans and seas are protected, compared to roughly 12% of land area. This leaves a vast amount of ocean which can be exploited through human activity, highlighting the importance of conserving the seas and oceans through Marine Protected Areas (MPA’S).

     While the main aim of MPA’s is to conserve marine biodiversity, there are a number of other benefits in creating these protected areas.

     Firstly, the conservation of biodiversity not only benefits the marine environment but can be also be an important way of maintaining tourism sustainably. For example, wildlife tourism alone is worth £65 million to the Scottish economy. By ensuring the protection of marine biodiversity through MPA’s, countries can create a sustainable way to boost their economy. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most visited natural attractions in the world, attracting approximately 2.19 million visitors during 2014, demonstrating the potential of wildlife tourism. However, the use of MPA’s for tourism brings a great deal of responsibility to both tourists and those promoting and managing tourism. Tourism brings its own problems. Damage to the protected environment is the obvious problem, along with more socio-economic issues affecting the local area and population. Responsible management is essential.

     Another benefit of MPA’s is their ability to provide fish species safe areas in which to reproduce and spawn, allowing fish stocks to recover. The Atlantic Cod population plummeted in the 90’s and stocks haven’t been able to recover since. This population decline was a result of overfishing the Atlantic Cod, to the point where the fish we unable to recover from the numbers lost, and poor management of fishing strategies used to catch the cod. MPA’s can restrict what human practices can take place, providing a safe area for fish species to recover. This should better maintain fish populations through the ‘spillover effect’ and create a more sustainable way of fishing our seas and oceans.

     MPA’s can also provide excellent sites of scientific research and education, which may help us to further protect and support the marine environment. In terms of research, MPA’s can provide sites of comparison to help in assessing how different anthropogenic factors may affect the marine environment. For example, by comparing a MPA to a marine area that is heavily fished, it may be possible to determine the impact on the marine ecology. Similarly, the sites can be used to teach visitors about the impacts of particular practices on the marine environment by showing them what a health marine environment should look like. Just as many terrestrial nature reserves have done, visitor centre can be used to teach tourists about marine ecology and suggest ways that visitors can do their bit to support the Earth’s oceans and seas.

     However, as with many conservation issues, the general public is divided on the concept of MPA’s. There are those for, those against and those that fit somewhere in between. The restrictions that come with MPA’s can affect local people who currently use seas and oceans, which may cause conflict with those in favour of MPA’s. This for and against mentality can create hostile feuds, often preventing a result from the debate.

     In my opinion, situations such as this are less about conservation and more about socio-economic and political issues. I find this is important in all conservation issues and that discussion is essential to find a compromise on the conservation issue in question. Conservation cannot work without some element of compromise but this is often a lot easier said than done. Leave your comments below and share your opinions on MPA’s.

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Jonathan Siberry
Ecologist, photographer and all round wildlife lover!!
Jonathan Siberry

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