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April 24, 2014

10 facts you might not know about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)

© OCEANA Carlos Suárez


1.- The combined size of the world’s MPAs exceeds the size of Europe. While that might sound like a very large area, the MPAs in fact cover less than 3 percent of the world’s oceans according to IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature).

2.- Only around 1 percent of the world’s oceans are closed to fishing, even though fishing restrictions inside MPAs actually benefit fisheries in the longer run by providing areas where fish are able to spawn and safely grow to their adult size.

3.- MPAs don’t have to be totally off limits for everyone all the time. Areas with rare and vulnerable species and communities are the ones in need of extra protection from, for example destructive fishing gear like bottom trawls, but people can still swim and enjoy the water in many of these areas.

4.- Scientific studies show that MPAs can benefit sea life by providing a safe haven for it to rebuild and flourish. Areas facing reduced fishing pressure have healthier communities and are often home to fish that are significantly bigger and more plentiful than those in unprotected areas.

5.- As a consequence, MPAs can help to maintain local fishing practices and cultures, economies, tourism and livelihoods, which are dependent on a healthy marine environment.

6.- The UN Convention on Biological Diversity set a target to protect 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2012. Unfortunately, many countries failed to meet their goals. Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey and the UK for example, have protected less than 4 percent of their waters so far. The target of 10 percent has now been postponed to 2020.

7.- In Europe, Germany is best in class with almost 40 percent of its waters protected. Ireland is the worst, having protected a meager 0.14 percent.

8.- The Baltic Sea is the only region in Europe that has met the 10 percent target, with 12 percent of its waters protected. Germany has played a large role in this success.

9.- Although 12 percent of the Baltic Sea has been designated for protection, almost half of the MPAs in the region are only protected on paper, and lack any official plan that stipulates what is allowed and what is restricted inside them. This has earned them the nickname of “paper parks”. This is one of the biggest problems with MPAs worldwide.

10.- The world’s largest network of MPAs is in Australia, but many of these areas have no conservation value. It’s just large chunks of water (with no oil or gas interest) that helps Australia reach the 10 percent goal without any real effort. As countries scramble to meet their 10 percent targets, we are seeing this bad practice replicated around the world.

These are just some of the reasons why Oceana is pushing for new and better-managed MPAs across Europe and the world. We have a lot of more information on the topic, for example how the creation of MPAs work and our proposals for new MPAs in the Baltic.