Parks that protect little
Research shows 59% of the world’s marine parks are ‘not ecologically distinguishable from fished sites’.
MOST of the world’s protected marine areas are failing to properly protect aquatic life, with many showing few differences from neighbouring areas that are openly fished, an Australian-led study has found.
University of Tasmania research of 87 marine protected areas in 40 countries showed the best marine parks had on average eight times more large fish and 14 times more sharks than fished areas. But the research, published in Nature, found that 59% of the marine parks studied were “not ecologically distinguishable from fished sites”.
Researchers identified five key traits of a well-managed marine park: no fisheries, well enforced, established for longer than 10 years, larger than 100sqkm and isolated by deep water or sand. Only marine parks with four or all five of these criteria were effectively boosting conservation values, the study found. Among the 26 marine areas studied in Australia, the only place with all five key traits was Middle Reef, near Lord Howe Island.
The six-year study, which utilised scientists and divers from 19 countries, concluded that while the number of marine protected areas was increasing rapidly, the benefits generated were “difficult to predict and under debate”.
“Marine protected areas often fail to reach their full potential as a consequence of factors such as illegal harvesting, regulations that legally allow detrimental harvesting, or emigration of animals outside boundaries because of continuous habitat or inadequate size of reserve,” the paper states.
“Our results show that global conservation targets based on area alone will not optimise protection of marine biodiver-
New York legislator has introduced a similar measure after scientists found high concentrations of the tiny exfoliating beads in the state’s lakes and other waters.
Researchers warn that the microbeads, which are not biodegradable, are ingested by fish and other animals, potentially ending up in the food chain. The tiny plastic orbs have already been found in California waters and in the Pacific Ocean. CALIFORNIA is set to ban the sale of cosmetic products, such as facial scrubs, containing tiny plastic beads that find their way into waterways and the ocean.
Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom plans to introduce a bill that would ban the sale of products containing the microbeads, which are too small to be removed by water treatment processes after they drain out of sinks and showers sity. More emphasis is needed on better park design, durable management and compliance to ensure that marine parks achieve their desired conservation value.”
Prof Graham Edgar, lead author of the report at the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, said that poor quality marine parks needed to be “retrofitted” to ensure they properly protect underwater life.
“Given the huge changes now occurring out of sight under water, and our poor knowledge of exactly what is happening and how best to deal with the various threats individually, the need for protected areas that safeguard whole communities of marine species has never been greater,” he said.
“What we do know is that numbers of many Australian marine species have collapsed since European settlement, including some that have disappeared. At present, coastal zoning maps are confusing, with the few conservation gems hidden amongst protected areas that are ineffective because of inadequate regulations or poor enforcement.”
In December, the Australian Coalition government tore up management plans drawn up by Labour to create the world’s largest network marine parks off Australia’s coast. Greg Hunt, the environment minister, said the plans would have “locked out” recreational fishers from Australian waters. While the marine park boundaries would remain, new management plans would be created, dismaying environmental campaigners who pointed out that most nonfishing areas were more than 50km from population centres.
The Great Barrier Reef marine park, possibly the most famous marine park in the world, is set to become the dumping site for three million cubic metres of dredged seabed after a permit for the controversial disposal was issued two weeks ago. – Guardian News & Media
The bill, which would impose civil penalties, isn’t as far reaching as New York’s, which would ban not just the sale, but also the manufacture of products containing plastic particles 5mm or smaller in diameter.
Nonetheless, its introduction is a victory for the 5 Gyers Institute, a Santa Monica, California, environmental. and advocacy non-profit with just five staff members. The group, which found high levels of microbeads in the Great Lakes in 2012 and is researching plastic pollution in California, helped craft the legislation in both states.
“5 Gyers is a really nimble organisation,” said Stiv Wilson, the group’s policy director. “We take pride we were able to get this bill introduced in two really important states.”
Major cosmetic companies, including Procter & Gamble Co and Johnson & Johnson, have already pledged to phase out the use of the plastic microbeads from their products.
“We are discontinuing our limited use of micro plastic beads as scrub materials in personal care products as soon as alternatives are qualified,” said Mandy Wagner, a Procter & Gamble spokeswoman. “In addition, we have decided not to introduce micro plastic beads into any new product category.”
Wagner did not immediately provide a timeline for when the company would end the use of the plastic beads.
In a statement on its website, Johnson & Johnson said it hopes to complete the first phase of reformulations for about half of its products by the end of 2015. The remaining products will be reformulated once substitutes are identified.
Other cosmetic companies already use ingredients such as apricot and walnut shells that accomplish the same job without harming the environment. A spokeswoman for the Personal Care Products Council, a trade group in Washington, DC, declined to comment on the pending legislation until the organisation completes a full review of the proposed bills.
Cosmetics makers over the last decade have increasingly added microbeads to facial scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and other products. 5 Gyres said that a single product can contain as many as 350,000 of the polyethylene or polypropylene microbeads.
“Microbeads may seem insignificant, but their small size is what’s the problem,” Wilson said. The beads act as a sponge for toxic pollutants, which fish and other aquatic life can mistake for food, he said.
Bloom, who was instrumental in passing a plastic bag ban in Santa Monica when he was mayor there, said he expects some push-back from business groups but that he’s encouraged that large companies appear to be phasing out the plastic orbs.
“If the industry is roughly on the same page in recognising the longterm danger to sea life and habitat ... this is going to be a very easy process,” he said.
Though research hasn’t yet established that fish and other aquatic life are ingesting microbeads and contaminating the food chain, Bloom said early evidence on plastic pollution in general is sufficient.
“It’s important to get to this before it becomes a wide-scale problem, before it requires a very expensive response,” he said. “We know enough about marine biology to know that it will grow in magnitude and continue to be a problem.” – Los Angeles Times/McClatchy Tribune Information Services