By the year 2020, Greenpeace hopes to increase global marine reserves from the less than 1 percent they are now to 20 percent. Most campaigning is being done in the United States, which is one of the few nations to take major steps to protect the oceans. Overfishing, climate change, and pollution from the use of fossil fuels is a very real threat to our oceans. The importance of healing the damage already done is immense for many reasons. The ocean supports 97 percent of functional habitats and sustains more than 700,000 species. Our ocean waterways provide transportation, jobs, and enjoyment to billions of people, and is also a very important food source.
The oceans are the lifeblood of humanity and we need them to survive. Currently, only 4 percent is protected by reserves, which are a specific kind of marine protected area that prohibits any activity that removes animals and plants or alters the habitat. Fishing, dredging, mining, and aquaculture are not allowed, although boating and scuba diving are sometimes allowed.
These kinds of reserves are especially important because their extended growth not only preserves, but also produces many resources that move into other areas of the ocean and contribute to its healing. By continuing to add these protected areas and regulating the activity inside them we can actually begin to restore biodiversity and ecosystems, not just stop their destruction. In 2002, 2003, and 2006 global targets were adopted to increase the levels of marine protection. However, at that time we did not have enough accurate data to create the number of reserves that were needed in order to make a significant difference. In order to meet significant targets, over 35 countries would need to create marine protected areas the size of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, and they would have to be created within the next 2 years. This area is about the size of California and is one of the largest blue parks in the world. In an effort to accomplish this, 200 countries met in 2010 and committed to increasing the amount of protected ocean area to 10 percent by the year 2020.
Chile and Niue made a huge contribution to this goal this past October. Niue turned 40 percent of its limited economic zone into a marine park and Chile added two parks. Together they have created another 290,000 square miles of protected area, which is about twice the size of Germany. These reserves are supported by the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project which was started in 2008 by Enric Sala.
Greenpeace is also fighting to protect the oceans by campaigning to create marine reserves in 20 percent of U.S waters by the year 2020. If they are successful, that will double the amount that is protected now and go a long way toward restoring balance to our oceans. The United Nations’ Aichi Targets identified at the 2010 meeting called for more than just creating more protected sites. It also calls for improvements in the already existing protected areas. This means more of them “No-take” areas where it is prohibited to take any resources at all, including seaweed, oil, and gas.
Out of all the protected areas, only 16 percent is protected as “No-take” areas, which equals only .5 percent of all ocean areas. If both the increase of blue parks and the improvement of existing parks is achieved, then there is a real chance that the Aichi Targets can be attained. Unfortunately, House Republicans voted this month to put forth a bill that would fast-track offshore oil and gas exploration and undermine environmental laws.
This would weaken the acts that support the 2010 targets and accelerate permits for oil drilling that can kill off our marine life and destroy ecosystems. Hopefully, the full House will not allow this bill to progress any further and we will continue to stay on track for the renewal, protection, and expansion of all our blue parks.