Advancing International Marine Conservation
For med in 1948, the International Union for Conservation of Nature( IUCN) is the “global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.” Its members include 218 state and government agencies and more than 1,100 non-governmental organizations from more than 160 nations. Their volunteer experts are organized in six commissions, such as the species survival commission which gives the official data on endangered and threatened species. Dan Laffoley is the marine vice chair of their World Commission on Protected Areas. As such, he is also standing co- chair of IMPAC with whomever the host country is every four years, previously co-chairing the IMPAC3 held in France in 2013.
A marine biologist from the United Kingdom, Laffoley has been working in ocean conservation for nearly three decades. In 2011, he founded the High Seas Alliance and is also chair of the International Ocean Acidification Reference User Group. He has particularly taken a special interest i n how marine science is communicated to the global public, such as his work with Google Oceans and helping to develop smartphone apps like the Marine World Heritage App of UNESCO.
Laffoley is a visiting professor at the Marine Institute of the University of Plymouth, serves on the boards of diverse marine groups, including the HMS Beagle Trust, a UK/ Chilean partnership that seeks to build a modern version of the ship that the evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin travelled on the 1830s as a way of “inspiring a new generation to explore, discover and safeguard the ocean.”
This is an opportunity to bring marine protection area managers together to give them an opportunity to tell their success stories, their challenges, share best practices, new innovations and approaches. The meeting in La Serena is the last opportunity before 2020, the year that countries have said that they will protect 10 percent of their marine environments around their coasts, to look at how we can increase the ambition and determination of countries. And I think it’s very appropriate that we are holding this meeting in Chile because of the strides it has been making as a country to increase their coverage of marine protected areas over the past few years.
Over the past year, there seems to be growing international momentum in creating more MPAs.
We’ve got increased momentum. I think countries are trying to meet the 10 percent figure. But with all these things the devil is in the details. The commitments that countries make must also be about quality, positioning, integration, and the values of these areas. The 10 percent target is also not enough. It is a political target that countries negotiated over the last few decades. But our knowledge about the state of the marine environment, the intensity of the extractive activities, and the pressures on the marine environment, has grown tremendously since then. At the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii last year, everyone recommended at least 30 percent of the ocean. So, we need to be navigating correctly toward the 2020 goals, but we need to have our ambitions set far higher for the coming years.
I think you’ll find a number of countries are already passing 10 percent. The smart countries are looking to protect a lot more, because marine resources will become increasingly scarce and not enough is being protected. And these early adapters will be in a much stronger position in future years compared to nations that are perhaps not so enthusiastic to disrupt industry right now.
The ocean is vast and many species migrate to other areas. Is it really enough to just create more marine protection areas?
We have a view that it should be 30 percent plus, and what I mean by plus is real, sustainable, management and controls over the other 70 percent. It is about looking at the ocean as a whole. The sorts of things we are dealing with nowadays weren’t even search items on Google when people decided the 10 percent. Ocean acidification, the tendency of the ocean to trend toward more acidic conditions which is already causing scallop growth problems along parts of the coastline in Chile, wasn’t a search item in 2004. And when it comes to fisheries, we need all the fisheries agencies in the world to be properly reporting when they deliver sustainable management approaches. There’s a lot more that needs to be done. We actually have a lot of the frameworks we need, it’s time to do them.
We have been doing a major campaign recently on ocean plastics. We are drawing the world’s attention to the fact that the ocean is not just getting more acidic, it’s actually warming. We are also working on another report that will come out next year about the ocean globally and regionally losing significant amounts of oxygen. If you warm water, it contains less gases, so effectively one things leads to another. Ninety-three percent of the enhanced greenhouse effect since the 1970s has actually been going into the ocean. The ocean has been our friend, but we are pushing its tolerances. One of the consequences of that is it losing up to 30 percent of its oxygen since the 1960s over some of the productive shelf areas. Another thing we are trying to do at IUCN is make people aware of these changes. Because people are not going to act with greater ambition unless we translate the complex science to very accurate and clear messages.
How can you make marine conservation areas more than just “paper parks”?
Yeah, there is a massive problem with paper parks. The announcement is only the start of it. You need to be looking at the type of management you put in place, and we know much more than the theory, we know what works. If you put in place high levels of protection, in virtually every example of this, and this has been verified in hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers, you get benefits. In a way, it’s no different than how people manage their financial investments: they get people to keep an eye on it and advise them on what they need to do. There needs to be an active management process.
Do you think there needs to be more no-take zones?
If you have a friend that has sufficient income to buy a house and to have a pension and save, but instead spend all the money they have each month, you would probably think they’re mad. The ocean is no different in the sense that if we just take everything all the time and we don’t put adequate protection in place, and we don’t invest in that process, we won’t get a particularly good outcome. We have protected just perhaps 5 percent of the system that is at the heart of regulating the climate that all of us depend on. Five percent is nowhere near enough.
Underwater research at Ascension Island. Investigación subacuática en la isla Ascensión.