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Gliding Stingray

MPAs can be broadly explained as a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values .

Multiple Benefits

Numerous studies show that highly and fully protected MPAs lead to increases in biomass, the size and density of organisms and the richness (diversity) of species. They are equally applicable to the polar oceans as they are to temperate waters and tropical seas. 

MPAs can be strategically placed to protect species’ spawning and nursery grounds, critical feeding areas and migratory routes and bottlenecks so supporting their reproduction and survival. 

By conferring protection from the sea surface to the seabed MPAs preserve important ecological links and biochemical processes ensuring protection of the whole ecosystem and related ecosystem services. 

The ‘spillover effect’ whereby larvae, juvenile and adult fish either move or are transported beyond the MPA’s boundaries mean that flourishing fish populations within MPAs lead to healthier fish populations in adjacent areas. MPAs are therefore an important tool in replenishing fish populations targeted by fishermen, so maintaining and improving fishing-related livelihoods and bolstering long-term food security. 

Protecting and restoring ‘blue carbon’ ecosystems, such as seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt marshes which are especially efficient at sequestering and storing carbon, through the creation of coastal MPAs will help mitigate against climate change.  

Healthier ocean ecosystems found within MPAs are more resilient and better able to withstand potentially damaging external impacts, such as those associated with climate change and ocean acidification. 

Well placed MPAs which protect coral reefs and mangroves can reduce coastal erosion and buffer against the impacts of natural disasters such as hurricanes so safeguarding vulnerable coastal communities and infrastructure.  

The creation of networks of MPAs may deliver high financial returns on investment. Protecting 30% of the ocean has been estimated to cost between US$ 223-228 billion, but the financial net benefits from increased ecosystem goods and services (once all costs have been taken into account) range from US$490 billion to US$920 billion by 2050. In the financial world that is a return on investment no-one would turn down! 

Currently, we have designated 7% of the Ocean as MPAs but only a fraction of these are effective for conservation or restoration.
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Great Barrier Reef

The value of MPAs as one of the most powerful tools to reverse the decline of our Ocean is now universally recognised as demonstrated by the Convention on Biological Diversity’s adoption of the '30x30' target. 

However, according to MPAtlas, 8.2% of the Ocean is currently protected with only a meagre 2.9% fully or highly protected from fishing impacts. This falls far short of the ambition and need for protecting at least 30% of our Ocean by 2030. All hands are needed on deck and actors including NGOs, local communities, Indigenous peoples’ leaders, scientific institutions and the private sector must now band together with governments in identifying and establishing networks of effective MPAs. Appropriate management plans must be put in place together with sustainable funding mechanisms that will ensure effective monitoring and control. 

Sea Pollution

Many countries lack sufficient expertise and so sharing best practice, capacity building and technology transfer are key to scaling up MPA action. 

A distinct lack of resources available for ocean protection has delayed action and so, as with climate, finding new revenue streams and developing sustainable funding mechanisms is crucial. 

Too often a fragmented and piecemeal approach is taken to establishing MPAs: MPAs are more effective when established in connected networks. To achieve 100% sustainable ocean requires the development of marine spatial plans underpinned by representative MPA networks with at 30% coverage. 

To ensure MPAs meet their conservation goals, they must be supported by the local communities and ocean users. The participation of relevant stakeholders in the development and ongoing management of MPAs is therefore essential. 

Understanding the value of our Ocean, the threats it faces and the importance of MPAs requires investing in education at all levels so that everyone is empowered to make a difference. 

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Understanding the value of our Ocean, the threats it faces and the importance of MPAs requires investing in education at all levels so that everyone is empowered to make a difference. 

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