WASHINGTON DC, Jan. 10 (IPS) – There is no other place in the world like Cocos Island National Park in Costa Rica. The waters surrounding the island – covered with tropical forests – are a playground for countless thrills, or schools of sharks, including hammerhead sharks, white tip sharks, and whale sharks.
Also with rays, turtles, whales and dolphins, it is one of the most biodiverse waterways in the world. In recent years, however, industrial fishing activity has encroached on the area, threatening this unprecedented marine life.
Fortunately, Costa Rica took decisive action this month by increasing the number of protected waters by a factor of 27. They also protected an additional marine area – the Bicentennial Marine Management Area, which is twice the size of the expanded Cocos Island National Park. The area does not include any harvesting area and will closely monitor fishing activity.
Stories like this are too rare. In the last century alone, we have eliminated over 90% of the ocean’s big fish, but less than 8% of the ocean is in some form of protection. We are still learning about the collateral damage from destructive fishing activities, like bottom trawling, which scrape the ocean floor, the world’s largest reservoir of carbon.
It is clear that commercial fishing, global warming and pollution have decimated the ocean. Few corners of the vast ocean are safe. As a result, seas lose their ability to protect biodiversity, provide food and store carbon, all of which are essential to maintaining a liveable planet, which has been the subject of intense discussion during the talks on the climate in Glasgow at the end of last year.
But it is possible to restore the benefits of the ocean to people and the planet. All we have to do is resuscitate the sea. The only catch is, we can’t wait. We have less than a decade to act.
Since 2018, I have been working around the clock and around the world with a team of scientists to identify areas of the ocean that we need to protect first. Through our research and countless expeditions, we have discovered the trade-offs between the benefits of the ocean.
To support our work, we have developed a framework that could help us maximize the benefits humanity derives from the ocean. We have found that if we are to place equal importance on biodiversity, food and carbon, it is imperative to protect 45% of the ocean – the “good” 45%.
Even if we were to decide that biodiversity is not that important, we would need to protect 30% – the minimum area needed to preserve marine life and all the benefits it provides to people. Costa Rica is one of a growing group of world leaders who understand the benefits of protecting marine areas. During the Glasgow climate talks, Costa Rica, along with Colombia, Ecuador and Panama, announced their commitment to create more marine reserves in the eastern tropical Pacific.
Establishing no-take zones along a “sea highway” for migratory species such as tuna will actually increase the supply of fish to surrounding areas. As a result, biodiversity and economies benefit.
Earlier this month, the government of Portugal has extended a marine protected area around the Selvagens Islands, located halfway between Madeira and the Canary Islands. At 3,677 square kilometers, the area is now the largest fully protected marine reserve in Europe.
Countries around the world must establish more of these protected areas by 2030 if we are to ensure that the ocean can continue to provide us with its benefits. The protections must be solid. Marine protected areas can only work their magic if all fishing and other harmful human activities are prohibited and these rules are enforced.
So far, 77 countries have agreed to defend a global goal to protect 30% of oceans, as well as land, by 2030. They are pushing for the 30×30 goal to be enshrined in an agreement. United Nations Global Biodiversity Meeting, currently under negotiation and expected to be signed in 2022.
But the world doesn’t have to wait for the ink to dry on the deal to establish more marine protected areas. Too much is at stake. I have seen with my own eyes how nature is replenished in marine reserves. Most importantly, I saw how this return of nature has helped people have better lives.
Enric Sala is Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, Founder of Pristine Seas and recipient of this year’s Prince Albert I Grand Medal for his work in the protection of the ocean. Pristine Seas has helped establish 24 marine protected areas, covering a total area of over 6.5 million square kilometers, more than twice the size of India.
© Inter Press Service (2022) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service