By Veronika Meduna
Matt Rand was visiting New Zealand this week to talk about the importance of fully protected marine areas as an insurance policy to maintain the health of the world’s oceans.
Most people are unaware that the oceans have seen significant declines and face major challenges.
He says fisheries worldwide are facing a crisis, with about 90 per cent of world’s fish populations either fully exploited or over-exploited. “Add on top of that ocean acidification, pollution causing dead zones, and we really need to start addressing the problems that we’re seeing in the ocean.”
Matt Rand says protected areas are an important part of the solution. He refers to recommendations under the Convention on Biological Diversity that seek to protect about 30 per cent of the world’s oceans to provide enough buffer to maintain its health despite the human impact on the rest of the marine ecosystem.
With about 2 per cent of the global oceans currently under full protection he says we “are nowhere near that”.
But it’s not all bad news. Last year, the Obama administration announced the expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, the “largest single action for expansion of protected ocean”, and then, earlier this year, the UK government announced the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands.
Find out more about the Kermadec Islands here:
Matt Rand says the gold standard for marine protected areas was spelled out in a Nature paper, which lists five key features that make marine reserves effective in helping to rebound biodiversity and abundance. They have to be old, very large, fully protected, isolated and well managed and enforced.
There are still some ecosystems that are more or less pristine or less degraded and those are important areas to protect. It gives some scientific perspective on what a truly natural state of an ecosystem is and we’re quickly losing that.
Most proposed marine reserves are in areas close to islands, simply because there is no easy legal mechanism to protect areas in the high seas, despite efforts by the United Nations to develop a convention for the management of international waters.
Matt Rand says he often looks back at the history of conservation campaigns on land, such as the protection of the area that is now the Yellowstone National Park. “There are certainly biological treasures there, including minerals and possibly oil and natural gas, that could have been extracted. If you asked the residents of that area now whether they would be interested in mining or shooting the remaining buffalo that are left, they of course would object. The national park is the driver of the whole economy in the region now.”
He says his hope is that governments and citizens will recognise the value of remote ocean areas such as the Kermadecs beyond short-term interest. “There will always be aspirations to develop and extract. You can’t go back through. Once you’ve done that it’s virtually impossible to recreate history and to recreate the opportunity to protect something.”