Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - Safeguarding our future

Our aquatic landscapes

Water makes up approximately 75% of planet Earth. It ranges from seas, oceans, lakes, ponds and rivers to swamps. Much of this water is beautified by various aquatic landscapes where you will find diverse ecosystems with several aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals. Some of these species live in specific habitats within these landscapes, such as coral reefs and mangroves. Others, like marine birds and some species of sharks, move from one habitat to another. Some species can travel thousands of miles during their life span like whales, marine turtles and floating species of algae such as phytoplankton and Sargassum.

"Humpback

Breeching Humpback Whale, Photo credit: Henry Lynch 
Source: http://stellwagon.noaa.gov

Marine areas supply us with resources providing what we refer to as ecosystem goods and services. Ecosystem Services are the benefits we obtain from our ecosystems like food, water, nutrient recycling and recreation.

To ensure that these services are sustainably used and that our marine areas are not degraded or overexploited, we sometimes designate them as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

Why do we need Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)?

Since the dawn of time, marine areas with their seemingly infinite resources have been used to provide food, extract valuable substances, and as a means of travel. This has threatened the integrity and biodiversity of these areas.

These threats include:

(1) overexploitation from fishing and extraction activities,

(2) pollution from ships and land-based activities, and

(3) burning of fossil fuels and deforestation. 

The burning of fossil fuels and deforestation have led to an increase in the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is estimated that approximately 40% of this carbon dioxide is dissolved by our oceans, rivers, and lakes, resulting in a decrease in their pH known as ocean acidification.

 This acidification is of particular concern given its extensive and harmful ripple effect on marine ecosystems in ways such as coral bleaching, the weakening of the calcium structure of organisms such as shellfish, and the general disruption of the physiological functions of many marine organisms.

National Park

     Guanahacabibes National Park 
     Photo Credit: © Maria La Gorda  © See Turtles/Oceanic Society

These impacts are a direct threat to the stability of marine food chains, commercial fishing, and even tourism and recreational activities.

In realizing that there was a critical need to diminish these impacts and curtail the destruction of marine ecosystems, the concept of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) was developed to provide a protective mechanism for these areas.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Marine Protected Area is "any area of the intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment."

MPAs  provide several benefits:

  • Maintaining biodiversity and providing homes for endangered and commercial species;
  • Protecting critical habitats from damage by destructive fishing practices and other human activities and allowing them to recover;
  • Providing areas where fish are able to reproduce, spawn and grow to their adult size;
  • Increasing fish catches (both size and quantity) in surrounding fishing grounds;
  • Building resilience to protect against damaging external impacts, such as climate change; and
  • Helping to maintain local cultures, economies, and livelihoods which are intricately linked to the marine environment. (Source: WWF)

 

The Future

We can benefit even further from ecosystem services if we reduced overfishing, prevented marine pollution and better managed our coastal and marine biodiversity.  MPAs provide an opportunity to address these issues in an integrated manner allowing for improved job opportunities from fisheries and tourism.  Let us take action to protect our coastal and marine biodiversity and our future!