Tag Archives: marine protected areas

Fishing to Death

Fishing vessel. image from wikipedia

Under international law the high seas, which span 64% of the surface of the ocean, are defined as “the common heritage of mankind”. This definition might have provided enough protection if the high seas were still beyond mankind’s reach. But the arrival of better trawlers and whizzier mapping capabilities over the past six decades has ushered in a fishing free-for-all. Hauls from the high seas are worth $16 billion annually. Deprived of a chance to replenish themselves, stocks everywhere pay the price: almost 90% are fished either to sustainable limits or beyond. And high-seas fishing greatly disturbs the sea bed: the nets of bottom trawlers can shift boulders weighing as much as 25 tonnes….

A fresh approach is needed. Slashing fishing subsidies is the most urgent step. In total these come to $30 billion a year, 70% of which are doled out by richer countries. By reducing fuel costs, subsidies bring the high seas within reach for a few lucky trawlers, largely from the developed world. Just ten countries, including America, France and Spain, received the bulk of the bounty from high-seas catches between 2000 and 2010, even though Africa has more fishermen than Europe and the Americas combined. That is unfair and short-sighted.

The next step is to close off more areas to fishing. As of 2014 less than 1% of the high seas enjoyed a degree of legal protection. A review of 144 studies published since 1994 suggests that to preserve and restore ecosystems, 30% of the oceans should be designated as “marine protected areas” (MPAs). Individual countries can play their part, by creating reserves within territorial waters: last year Britain created the world’s largest MPA, an area bigger than California off the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific. But to get anywhere near that 30% share, mechanisms must be found to close off bits of the high seas, too. The UN’s members have rightly agreed to work out how to do so…

So in parallel with efforts to protect wild stocks, another push is needed: to encourage the development of aquaculture, the controlled farming of fish. In 2014, for the first time, more fish were farmed for human consumption than were caught in the wild; farmed-fish output now outstrips global beef production. Unfortunately, feedstocks are often poor and storage facilities inadequate. …Eventually, efficient fish-farming will be the best guardian of stocks on the high seas.

Marine Management: Net Positive,  Economist, July  16, 2016, at 13

Engineering Coral Reefs

Coral Reef, image from wikipedia

In the past half-century, though, these beautiful, biodiverse structures have been put under pressure by human activity. About a quarter of all coral cover has died. The reefs that are in worst shape are those off the most crowded beaches. “People don’t leave enough time for their sun cream to soak in, so it gets in the water,” says one deckhand with Eo Wai’anae Tours, which organises boat trips off Oahu. More damage is caused by fertiliser-rich run-off from farms, leading to algal blooms which block light the corals need. Fishing near reefs cuts the number of herbivorous fish, allowing vegetation to grow out of control. Some fishing methods are particularly harmful: for example, blast fishermen in Colombia, Tanzania and elsewhere use dynamite to stun and kill fish without regard to the harm done to nearby reefs…In the South China Seaisland-building and fishing for giant clams are crushing some reefs beyond the possibility of recovery (seearticle)….

Tourism generated by the Great Barrier Reef is worth about $4.6 billion annually to nearby Queensland alone. Australian bigwigs bent over backwards last year to keep the UN from listing the reef, a World Heritage Site, as “in danger”. Estimates suggest that the economic value of Martinique and Saint Lucia’s corals comes to $50,000 per square km each year, thanks largely to tourism. But overdevelopment threatens the reefs the visitors come to gawp at. Sediment from construction clouds waters, burying corals and blocking the light they need. Hotels close to the shore may be convenient for tourists, but the process of building them can kill the reefs that snorkellers like to swim over…The three countries with the largest numbers of people who fish on reefs are all in the coral-triangle region: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. In Indonesia and in the Philippines, up to 1m people’s livelihoods depend on reefs.

Averting a tragedy of the commons means agreeing which activities should be restricted and enforcing the rules. For coral reefs—and other biodiverse marine environments—the usual approach is to give ecologically sensitive areas special status under local or regional laws. In such “marine protected areas” (MPAs), activities that are deemed harmful, such as fishing, drilling and mining, can then be restricted or banned, with penalties for rule-breakers.

The Aichi targets, agreed in 2010 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, seek to reduce “anthropogenic pressures” on coral reefs to “maintain their integrity and function”. The aim is to have at least 17% of inland water and 10% of coastal and marine areas under conservation by 2020. Most countries have signed up. But the targets are far from being met. Less than 3% of the ocean’s surface is within an MPA.

The most urgent action is needed close to shore. The nearer humans are to reefs, the worse their effect on the fragile ecosystems. A global register of fishing vessels, long under discussion, would also help identify wrongdoers. And beefing up the UN law of the sea could inspire further action. Decades old, it has little to say about biodiversity.

But simply declaring an area protected does not make it so. In 2009 George Bush junior, then president of America, established three national marine monuments in the Pacific, including nearly 518,000 square km of coral islands and surrounding areas. Their remoteness makes it hard to stop vessels entering illegally; Hawaii’s coastguard is already stretched.

Satellites are sometimes used to police MPAs, but they pass over infrequently. In the future, sailing robots could play a larger role. America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been working with a private firm, Saildrone, on hardy models equipped with carbon-fibre fins. They cost less than $500,000 each and can roam remote ocean regions for months, making them far cheaper than manned boats.

Such drones could photograph rogue fishing vessels, obtaining hard-to-gather evidence for any criminal proceedings. And they could carry out other useful work at the same time, such as monitoring ocean temperature and acidity or tracking tagged members of endangered species. Saildrone plans to provide its robots as a service, so that universities and other cash-strapped organisations do not have to buy one outright…

Even if the right policies are adopted to keep corals healthy in the immediate future, longer-term threats loom. Neither oceanic warming nor acidification can be kept out by an MPA. And both may be happening too fast for corals to adapt, especially as recent global climate deals will not slow them much. Back slaps and handshakes accompanied the inclusion of an aim to limit global warming to just 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in the Paris Agreement last year. But only an incorrigible optimist would bet on that aim being achieved.

So researchers are turning their attention to ways to help corals cope. Their global diversity, scientists hope, may hold the key. The same coral will grow differently under different conditions: corals of the western Pacific near Indonesia, for example, can withstand higher temperatures than the same species in the eastern Pacific near Hawaii….The characteristics that help some reefs survive unusual conditions could allow others to endure climate change. But tough corals from one place cannot simply be transplanted to another. So a team at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology is in the early stages of engineering reef ecosystems, with $4m from the Paul G. Allen Foundation, a charity set up by Bill Gates’s former business partner.

Organisms respond to environmental changes through both genetic processes (adaptation) and non-genetic ones (acclimatisation). With corals, the nature of their symbiotic relationships can also alter. So selectively breeding and conditioning them, and investigating whether certain types of algae confer resistance to heat or acidity, could create hardier varieties faster than they would develop naturally.

These could then be used to repopulate ravaged reefs—once more is known about how and where to transplant them. “We’re assisting evolution,” explains Ruth Gates, who leads the research.

Marine conservation: Rejuvenating reefs, Economist, Feb. 13, at 57

How to Regulate Mining in the Deep Seabed


mineral exploitation,pacific ocean, locations, image from wikipedia

Interest in mining the deep seabed is not new; however, recent technological advances and increasing global demand for metals and rare-earth elements may make it economically viable in the near future  Since 2001, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) has granted 26 contracts (18 in the last 4 years) to explore for minerals on the deep seabed, encompassing ∼1 million km2 in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans in areas beyond national jurisdiction However, as fragile habitat structures and extremely slow recovery rates leave diverse deep-sea communities vulnerable to physical disturbances such as those caused by mining (3), the current regulatory framework could be improved. We offer recommendations to support the application of a precautionary approach when the ISA meets later this July 2015….

The seabed outside of national jurisdictions [called the “Area” in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)] is legally part of the “common heritage of mankind” and is not subject to direct claims by sovereign states. The common-heritage principle imposes a kind of trusteeship obligation on the ISA, created under UNCLOS in 1994, and its member states, wherein “the interests of future generations have to be respected in making use of the international commons”; those interests include both resource exploitation and environmental protection …

Efforts focused on the Clarion-Clipperton Fracture Zone (CCZ) in the abyssal Pacific provide a useful model. The CCZ as the largest known concentrations of high-grade polymetallic nodules, with potentially great commercial value . The scale of impacts that would be associated with nodule mining in the CCZ may affect 100s to 1000s of km2 per mining operation per year . In 2007, an international workshop brought together expert representatives from ISA and the scientific and international ocean law communities to develop design principles and recommendations for a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the CCZ off-limits to mining, to be considered by the ISA as part of a regional environmental management plan. The workshop used a recent assessment of biodiversity, species ranges, and gene flow in the CCZ to develop recommendations honoring existing mining exploration claims while incorporating accepted principles of ecosystem management ..

In 2012, the ISA pioneered a precautionary approach in the CCZ when it provisionally adopted the deep seabed’s first environmental management plan that included Areas of Particular Environmental Interest (APEIs), a modified version of the recommended MPA network from the 2007 workshop. The design principles used in developing the APEIs included (i) compatibility with the existing legal framework of the ISA for managing seabed mining and protecting the marine environment. (ii) minimizing socioeconomic impacts by honoring existing exploration claims; (iii) maintaining sustainable, intact, and healthy marine populations; (iv) accounting for regional ecological gradients; (v) protecting a full range of habitat types; (vi) creating buffer zones to protect against external anthropogenic threats (e.g., mining plumes); and (vii) establishing straight-line boundaries to facilitate rapid recognition and compliance (12)….

Meanwhile, the ISA continues to grant exploration contracts for large areas of other deep-sea habitats in the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans. Preexisting or new exploration claims (up to ∼75,000 km2 for nodules) can erode the effectiveness of protected-area networks by preempting protection of critical habitats and by limiting population connectivity by causing excessive spacing between MPAs. We thus recommend that the ISA consider suspending further approval of exploration contracts (and not approve exploitation contracts) until MPA networks are designed and implemented for each targeted region.

Excerpts from L. M. Wedding et al., Managing mining of the deep seabed, Science 10 July 2015:
Vol. 349 no. 6244 pp. 144-145

Marine Protected Areas: PIPA, Kiribati

Phoenix islands Protected Area.  Image from wikipedia

After years of claiming untruthfully that the world’s most fished marine protected area was “off limits to fishing and other extractive uses,” President Anote Tong of the Pacific island state of Kiribati and his cabinet have voted to close it to all commercial fishing by the end of the year.  The action, if implemented, would allow populations of tuna and other fish depleted by excessive fishing to return to natural levels in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a patch of ocean the size of California studded with pristine, uninhabited atolls.

The move comes at a time global fish populations are steadily declining as increasingly efficient vessels are able to extract them wholesale from ever-more-remote and deep waters around the globe.  While no-take zones of comparative size exist in Hawaii, the Chagos Islands and the Coral Sea, none are as rich in marine life, making this potentially the most effective marine reserve in the world.,,,

In a speech still he gave at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit two years ago still visible on Youtube, Tong mentions “the initiative of my country in closing off 400,000 square kilometres of our [waters] from commercial fishing activities,” calling it “our contribution to global ocean conservation efforts.”

In fact, when PIPA was created, only in the three percent of the reserve that’s around the islands, where virtually no fishing was going on, fishing was banned. In the rest of the reserve, the catch increased, reaching 50,000 tonnes in 2012 – an unheard-of amount in any protected area.

Christopher Pala, Kiribati Bans Fishing in Crucial Marine Sanctuary, IPS, May 15, 2014

Why Nations Become Marine Protected Areas

Diego Garcia. Image from wikipedia

In November 1965, the UK purchased the entire Chagos Archipelago from the then self governing colony of Mauritius for £3 million to create the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), with the intent of ultimately closing the plantations to provide the uninhabited British territory from which the U.S. would conduct its military activities in the region. On 30 December 1966, the U.S. and the UK executed an Agreement through an Exchange of Notes which permit the United States Armed Forces to use any island of the BIOT for defense purposes for 50 years (through December 2016), followed by a 20-year optional extension (to 2036) to which both parties must agree by December 2014. As of 2010, only the atoll of Diego Garcia has been transformed into a military facility.  The indigenous populations of the islands were relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles to make way for a joint United States-United Kingdom military base on Diego Garcia.

There are two transnational political issues which affect the status of the Chagos archipelago.  First, the island nation of Mauritius claims the Chagos Archipelago (which is coterminous with the BIOT), including Diego Garcia. A subsidiary issue is the Mauritian opposition to the 1 April 2010 UK Government’s declaration that the BIOT is a Marine Protected Area with fishing and extractive industry (including oil and gas exploration) prohibited.

Second, the issue of compensation and repatriation of the former inhabitants of several of the archipelago’s atolls, exiled since 1973, continues in litigation and as of 23 August 2010 has been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights by a group of former residents.Litigation continues as of 2012 regarding the right of return for the displaced islanders and Mauritian sovereignty claims. In addition, advocacy on the Chagossians’ behalf continues both in the United States and in Europe.  According to a document released by wikileaks the marine protected area in the Chagos archipelago was established to prevent former inhabitants “to pursue their claim for resettlement on the islands.”

Excerpts from wikipedia Chagos Archipelago

More on IPS environment


The Coral Triangle, biodiversity, fisheries and climate change

Stretching across six countries in Southeast Asia and Melanesia (Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste), the Coral Triangle contains the richest marine ecosystems on earth. While encompassing just over 1.5% of the world’s oceans (and1% of the earth’s surface), it contains a staggering proportion of the world’s marine diversity: 76% of reef-building coral species, and 37% of coral reef fi sh species. The Coral Triangle is the epicentre for the biodiversity of not only corals and fi sh, but many other marine organisms as well….The signifi cance of the marine ecosystems lining over 132,800 km of coastline within the Coral Triangle goes far beyond their biological value or evolutionary signifi cance. Coastal ecosystems in this region are critically important for human livelihoods and communities, providing food and resources to over 100 million people. Many people in this region forage on coral reefs and other coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, to collect their daily food and income. Commercial fi sheries provide over $3 billion per year to the six nations. These ecosystems also contribute to the maintenance of water quality along coastlines, with mangroves and seagrass beds stabilising sediments and acting as fi ltration systems as water runs from land to sea. Coral reefs provide important coastal barriers in many regions, reducing the power of waves and preventing damage to human communities and infrastructure. These functions cannot be replaced if these ecosystems are removed.

Unfortunately, coastal ecosystems throughout the Coral Triangle are being severely threatened by the activities of humans. These threats arise from two distinct sources. The first set arise from local sources such as destructive fishing practices, deteriorating water quality, over-exploitation of key marine species, and the direct devastation of coastal ecosystems through unsustainable coastal development. The second set arise from rapid anthropogenic climate change, which is caused by the build up of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. These threats are escalating and ecosystems like coral reefs are already showing major changes to sea temperature and acidity. Further changes are putting the future of these important biological systems in serious doubt.

Excerpt from Executive Summary from THE CORAL TRIANGLE AND CLIMATE CHANGE, (2009)

More on the Threats and Recommendation for action (pdf)

See also Integrating Fisheries, Biodiversity, and Climate Change Objectives into Marine Protected Area Network Design in the Coral Triangle (pdf, 2012)

Saving the Species; Molibe Marine Protected Areas

Some of the world’s most endangered marine life could be saved from extinction by establishing mobile nature reserves that would protect vulnerable species as they moved around the oceans, scientists say.  The initiative could provide safe havens for endangered loggerhead and leatherback turtles, albatrosses, sharks and other travelling species, and sea life that is abandoning its historic territories in response to climate change.  Under the proposals, trawlers would agree to avoid certain stretches of the sea at set times of the year when endangered species are mating, spawning or passing through. Those ocean regions might move with the seasons, ocean currents and long-term environmental events like El Niño, the researchers said.

Mobile marine reserves could bolster existing protected areas that draw an invisible cordon around fixed regions of the oceans, such as coral reefs and sea mounts, where ecological diversity is linked to geographical featuresInstead of restricting areas by their location, mobile reserves would identify particular conditions that attract marine life “The stationary reserves do little to protect highly mobile animals, like most of the fish, turtles, sharks and seabirds,” said Larry Crowder, science director at the Centre for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. “We think of protected areas as places that are locked down on a map. But places in oceans are not locked down, they move.”

The idea was proposed at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.One potential mobile marine reserve could protect the north Pacific convergence zone, a region where two giant currents meet head-on, bringing plankton, small fish, turtles and major predators together. The zone is always teeming with life, but it moves from season to season.

Hopes of creating mobile marine reserves have been around for more than a decade, but Crowder said that only in recent years has the concept become plausible because of improvements in satellite imaging and GPS tagging of species. With these technologies, marine biologists have learned in great detail the movements of different sea creatures….

The new reserves could work in favour of fisheries by opening areas of the ocean that might otherwise be restricted. Modern trawlers are fitted with GPS equipment and could have maps updated each year or season to make clear which areas were off limits to protect vulnerable species.  The initiative would not prevent unlawful fishing, but would help trawlers that were trying to work the oceans without pushing species to the brink of extinction.

Ian Sample, ‘Mobile nature reserves’ could save marine species from extinction,Guardian, Feb. 18, 2012