Today, President Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to a total protected area of 582,578 square miles – making it the largest marine protected area on Earth. Part of the most remote island archipelago on Earth, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument supports a reef ecosystem with more than 7,000 marine species and is home to many species of coral, fish, birds and marine mammals. This includes the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, the endangered leatherback and hawksbill sea turtles. Top and bottom photos courtesy of James Watt, middle photo by Lindsey Kramer, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo by @thomaspeschak A southern right whale surfs winter storm swells in South Africa’s De Hoop Marine Protected Area. Almost hunted to extinction by both shore and ship based whaling, this species has staged a remarkable recovery in South Africa. The population is growing by more than 7% every year and what was once the “right” whale to catch is now the right one for tourists to watch. Unpublished photo from Dec 2014 @natgeo story Cross Currents. #wwf #whales #southafrica #dehoop #capenature @thephotosociety @natgeocreative by natgeo

Large, well-established and isolated Marine Protected Areas boost shark numbers

The concept itself probably doesn’t come as a big surprise to a lot of us, but a recent comprehensive study has shown that large, established and well-enforced no take zones show 14 times more more sharks and other sea life than commercial fishing areas.

87 marine protected areas (MPAs) were examined over 40 countries, allowing researchers to determine factors contributing to a successful MPA. Successful MPAs typically had five features: no-take zone, well-enforced, over 10 years old, over 100km-sq, and isolated by sand or deep water

Of course, most of us also know that the majority of MPAs are not successful, and are in fact only token protected areas - they're paper parks, meaning they’re only MPAs on paper. And the sea life in these areas is about on the same level as the sea life in the nearby fishing areas. Which is to say, not great; the study shows a 90% decrease in sharks, and 83% decrease in large fish (with a 63% decrease in fish overall). And that’s pretty scary, because it means a lot of MPAs aren’t achieving their conservation goals, if they have them at all.

But it’s not all bad news. Hopefully, this means the study and ones similar to it could be used in the near future to improve current MPAs, increase the number of successful MPAs and reduce the number of paper parks and MPAs like them. Fingers crossed.

(Also, you can read the paper, published in Nature, here.)

A Blueprint for Protecting the World’s Oceans

There is really only one ocean. But over time, it’s been cordoned off into various regions, with the most fluid of boundaries. Today, geographers recognize more than 50 seaswithin five major oceans. There are also more than 150 Exclusive Economic Zones where individual coastal nations exercise sovereignty up to 200 nautical miles from their shores. 

Now, thanks to the rise of marine protected areas (MPAs), the global ocean is becoming increasingly partitioned. The term is a catchall for sites like ocean sanctuaries, marine parks, and no-fishing zones—scattered havens where marine life is supposed to thrive, free of human interference (or, at least, subject to limited human interference). The world’s 5,000-plus MPAs include national treasures like the Galápagos and the Great Barrier Reef, but they also include small “fishery-management zones” that are undistinguished except for fine-print prohibitions on certain types of fishing gear. Even the Great Barrier Reef is open to extractive activities like trawl fishing and deep-sea dredging.

Only 2 percent of the ocean is currently covered by some sort of MPA. (In contrast, 12 percent of the world’s land is protected in national-park systems and wildlife preserves.) And only half of that 2 percent—a mere 1 percent of the ocean—is classified as “no-take,” or completely closed to fishing and other extractive activity.

The international conservation community has long heralded the role of MPAs in protecting ocean resources.

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Enric Sala - Glimpses of a pristine ocean

This guy hits every single nail on the head. He talks about how our baseline of what a “healthy” ocean looks like comes from an ocean already impacted by centuries of interaction. The few remaining pristing reefs that we have are absolutely breathtaking, and there is still time to help the others recover.  


Marine Protected Areas

There’s a lot of SeaWorld controversy out there, and honestly, I don’t know where I stand.
On one hand, the original orcas were torn from their freedom and family.
On the other hand, SeaWorld is the organization that originally inspired me to become a marine biologist and try to help create new MPAs (marine protected areas).
Is there such an obvious “right” decision as people claim, when seaworld is doing its part to inspire more protection for animals by harming some?