Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Urgent Protection Needed for the High Seas

From a press release from the ARC Center of Excellence Coral Reef Studies in Australia:

An international team of scientists has called for the creation of marine protected areas in the open oceans to protect the world’s sea life from growing damage and loss caused by overexploitation, pollution and other human impacts.

The open oceans make up 99 per cent of the total region inhabited by life on Earth – yet are currently among our least-protected ecosystems, the researchers say in an opinion article in the world’s leading ecology journal.

They argue that pelagic ecosystems – the high seas – are in as urgent need of protection as the coastal areas where marine protected areas (MPAs) have already been declared, or areas that fall within national maritime boundaries.

The high seas provide almost 80 per cent of humanity’s fish supplies, carry out half the photosynthesis (conversion of solar energy to sustain life) that takes place on the planet and, through their ability to absorb CO2, are a dominant influence over the speed and extent of climate change.

They note that on the high seas, there is no single global body with the authority to establish protected areas or to regulate access to and use of an area for more than one purpose.

However they say progress can be made through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations, the International Maritime Organisation and by individual countries doing more to protect the outer parts of their 200 mile sovereign territories.
They point out that establishing the Pelagos Marine Sanctuary in the Mediterranean had the effect of encouraging countries such as Italy to tighten controls over the discharge of industrial pollution into the sea.

By reducing the cumulative impact of human activities on the world’s oceans, MPAs can help to mitigate the severity of particular threats that cannot be directly controlled: “For example, if pelagic systems of the Black Sea had not suffered severe pollution and overfishing, they would have been less vulnerable to invasive species,” they say.

“We believe that pelagic MPAs have now come of age as an important tool in the planet’s last frontier of conservation management.”

See the full article here.

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