Global Steps Towards Ocean Preservation

By Kristine Lister ’18


2016 has been a record year for ocean preservation. On October 28, 2016 twenty-four countries and the EU agreed with the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, CCAMLR, to set aside 600,000 square miles of the Ross Sea to become the world’s largest marine protected area, and in August President Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to over 580,000 square miles.

The Ross Sea is part of the Southern Ocean, between Antarctica and South Africa, and is the least altered marine ecosystem on Earth. It contains a wide diversity of marine animals, including at least 10 mammal species, half a dozen species of birds, 95 species of fish, and over 1,000 invertebrate species. These animals include a number of penguins such as the emperor penguin, a number of whales including the killer whale, and a number of seals including the weddell seal.

The new marine protected area, MPA, will come into force in December 2017. Seventy-two percent of the sanctuary “will be a ‘no-take zone, which forbids all fishing, while other sections will permit some harvesting of fish and krill for scientific research,” according to the CCAMLR. The MPA will provide protection to, “marine species, biodiversity, habitat, foraging and nursery areas, as well as to preserve historical and cultural sites.” Scientists will also be able to compare the new MPA to areas where fishing is allowed to see directly the changes that arise from human intervention.

The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument was first created by President George W. Bush in 2006, preserving 140,000 square miles, and at the time was the largest marine reserve in the world. President Obama expanded it in 2014 to 490,000 square miles. Now the national monument encompasses 582,578 square miles of ocean waters and ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The monument contains significant cultural sites to Native Hawaiians as well as a wide range of animals. The monument is home to over 7,000 marine species, and a quarter of the creatures are not found anywhere else in the world. A number of these animals have also not even been identified yet. On top of all this, the monument also contains the oldest animals in the world, the black corals that have been living for more than 4,000 years. The monument is a no-take zone, which helps preserve the biodiversity

Now the marine protected area of the Ross Sea and the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument encompasses four times the size of Texas, and are two of the largest contributions to preserving ocean life. As ocean temperatures begin to rise and pollution of our waters continues, these areas of preservation are vital. As marine biologist Sylvia Earle said, “Resilience to climate change is dependent upon having significant areas of natural protection—for biodiversity and for all the things that hold the planet steady. This is vitally important to protect our life-support system.”

Filed in: Featured content, Science

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