In 2005, I swam in the Southern Ocean, just off Antarctica. It was cold — very cold — when I swam over a graveyard of whale bones near an old whaling factory. As far as I could see, there were bleached white bones piled up on the seafloor. Man hunted whales almost to the point of extinction, not seeming to care that we could lose one of the wonders of the sea forever. It is the coldness of the water that preserves the bones and makes it look as if they were left there yesterday, but I like to think they are there as a reminder of man’s potential for folly.

Fortunately, in 1986 most countries ceased commercial whaling, and some whale populations have made a spectacular recovery. Whales like the Southern right were brought back from the brink of extinction. Their numbers are now increasing 7 percent year after year. If we can do it with one species, surely we can do it for entire ecosystems. We just need to give them the space to recover.

Marine protected areas, which are like national parks for the seas, are the best way to make that happen. In the Red Sea, I saw no coral and no fish. It looked like an underwater desert. But then, a little more than a mile later, I swam into a protected area, where fishing had been restricted. It was a sea as it was meant to be: rich and colorful and teeming with abundant life.

We need far more of these protected areas. They allow the habitat to recover from overfishing and pollution, which helps fish stocks recover. When we create them, we protect the coral, which protects the shoreline and provides shelter for fish. They become places people want to visit for ecotourism. They are good for the world economy, for the health of the oceans, for every person living on this planet.

This year in the Aegean I swam over tires and trash. In a few years, I hope to return, and swim over thriving coral reefs.

Swimming Through Garbage” - Lewis Pugh

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.)


Official Netflix Trailer for Mission Blue, featuring the outstanding Sylvia Earle.

“Oceanographer and eco-activist Sylvia Earle’s urgent mission to expose the dire condition of Earth’s oceans is captured in this documentary directed by Fisher Stevens, Academy Award-winning producer of “The Cove,” and Academy Award nominee Bob Nixon. Earle explains that the condition of our oceans, rapidly dying due to pollution, over-fishing, and acidification, is an ecological catastrophe soon to have a devastating impact on all life on Earth.”

Available starting August 15th! Get excited!

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.

Read more. [Image: ]


Cause for Celebration: Two California Marine Sanctuaries Double in Size

California has long been a leader in protecting its ocean resources. Starting a decade ago, with strong support from the Aquarium, the state established a comprehensive network of marine protected areas stretching from the Oregon border to Mexico.

The legacy goes back much further. Next door to the Aquarium, the waters at Hopkins Marine Station were designated as a marine reserve in 1931.

The federal government has stepped up to safeguard ecologically rich areas along our coast, too. Since 1980, it has created four national marine sanctuaries in California: Channel Islands (1980), Gulf of the Farallones (1981) Cordell Bank (1989) and - just offshore of the Aquarium - Monterey Bay (1992).

On Thursday, two of those sanctuaries grew significantly larger when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced a doubling in size of Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries.

Strong public demand

With the expansion, national marine sanctuaries now cover a contiguous stretch of 350 miles off California’s coast, from Point Arena to Cambria. NOAA’s action came in response to strong public demand from fishermen, conservationists and public officials.

“With this decision, Californians again have demonstrated their passion for conserving our oceans and coasts, upon which our future depends,” says Margaret Spring, the Aquarium’s vice president of conservation and science, and our chief conservation officer.

The waters of the two sanctuaries are home to breeding colonies for important species, and are the source of the upwelling of nutrients from deep ocean waters that fuels productive food webs along a larger part of the Central Coast.

Nationally, more than 170,000 square miles of ocean are protected in marine sanctuaries. It’s an impressive - and growing - legacy of ocean conservation.

Learn more about the decision
Dive deeper into California’s national marine sanctuaries

Watch on

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.  

Will Marine Protected Areas Save Commercial Fishing in California?

Nine years ago, the Monterey Bay Aquarium led a coalition that championed creation of a science-based network of marine protected areas along the California coast.

We worked with conservation organizations, fishermen and businesses to assure that future generations will reap the benefits of setting aside rich ocean habitats where ocean life can thrive undisturbed.

Researchers round the world have documented that waters where fishing is restricted become productive nurseries that repopulate depleted waters outside the boundaries of marine protected areas. Inside the reserves, divers and scientists get a glimpse of what pristine marine ecosystems look like.

We expected a similar transformation in California. 

Evidence is emerging

Now there’s evidence – not in the form of papers published in scientific journals (though those are coming out, too) – but in an article published this weekend in the California Sunday Magazine.

For “The Fisherman’s Dilemma,” award-winning author and Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation Paul Greenberg went diving in Monterey Bay and accompanied commercial and sport fishermen here and off Santa Barbara to see if the fish are indeed coming back.

Full nets, happy anglers

What he finds are lots of fish in waters outside the no-fishing zones – fish that are filling fishermen’s nets and being landed by happy anglers. After one successful sportsfishing trip in the Channel Islands, Paul writes, "a retired chef who’d been fishing next to me muttered, ‘I’ll tell you what, if it wasn’t for these (marine protected areas), there wouldn’t be any fish at all.’“

California leads the nation in safeguarding its ocean heritage, thanks to visionary leadership and a lot of hard work by many, many people. We and other West Coast communities are starting to reap the benefits of better fisheries management. The recovery of rockfish and other once-depleted groundfish species is one sign.

Based on research around the world, we’ll see further improvement in the years to come. Dive into "The Fishermen’s Dilemma” – and the accompanying images by fisherman and photographer Corey Arnold – for a glimpse of what the future holds.

Rockfish photo © Corey Arnold

This December we celebrate the grand opening of 19 more underwater parks along the beautifully rugged and wild shores of Northern California – the Golden State can now boast of a complete set of coastal crown jewels. 

These parks (otherwise known as marine protected areas) put the finishing touches on the statewide network called for under California’s landmark ocean protection law, the Marine Life Protection Act. This network of “MPAs” now dots our west coast like a string of gems, protecting iconic points of interest such as the Channel Islands, Big Sur, Point Lobos and now in the north Point St. George Reef, home to the second largest nesting seabird colony south of Alaska; and estuarine waters at the mouth of waterways like Ten Mile River that are critical for salmon and steelhead populations.  Read more in Francesca Koe’s blog.


Marine Protected Areas

Know Your MPAs

MPA, or Marine Protected Area, is like a national park, only in the water. Think of them as the Yellowstones of the ocean. A marine protected area is defined as: ‘Any area of 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’ (IUCN, 1988)

Keep reading


Scottish Marine Protected Areas

The Scottish government has said it wants to hear public opinion on setting up marine protected areas (MPAs) in several sites off the coast. There are 33 MPAs in the consultation, covering marine habitats, wildlife and geology, which range from the Shetland Faroe sponge belt to the Barra fan in the west. This would add to the existing network of protected areas. Marine Scotland, on behalf of the government, set out these objectives in the Planning Scotland’s Seas document. The other partners in the project are Scottish Natural Heritage, Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Historic Scotland and Sepa. The public consultation launched on the 25th of July and will close on the 3rd of November 2013.

For more information click here -

A series of public meetings will be held to gauge public opinion on the proposals, beginning in Edinburgh on Monday 19th August. Click here for details -