From protecting sharks to reviving the Australian Outback, a look at the year in conservation
Note: This page has been updated to reflect the status of the Easter Island Marine Protected Area.
To successfully protect the environment, many stakeholders must work together, give local communities control over conservation initiatives, and respect indigenous cultures and practices. The wide range of conservation wins in 2017 shows what’s possible when political and advocacy leaders recognize and act on those truths. Here are some of the year’s highlights showing how The Pew Charitable Trusts, our partners, and local communities worked to sustain our planet, for both the species and the people who depend on it.
January:The new year bluefin tuna auction is a tradition at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo, and on Jan. 5 the first sale reached $614,000 for a 467-pound fish—almost $1,315 a pound. With the bluefin already depleted by more than 97 percent from historic levels, Pew used the media attention on the auction to highlight a call for a two-year moratorium on commercial fishing of this species. The spotlight on the issue helped move two fishery commissions to take action in August to rebuild stocks—a big step toward safeguarding this species.
Aboard the U.K. government’s logistics and fishery patrol vessel Pharos SG, Pew expert Johnny Briggs joined scientists, political officials, and other conservationists on a 12-day trip to South Georgia Island, a remote former whaling center 950 miles east of the Falkland Islands. Participants witnessed recent projects aimed at protecting the environment, learned more about the cultural and natural history of the area, and gathered information that could help with decisions on how to better conserve these remarkable islets. Read Briggs’ three-part account of his journey to the end of the Earth.
During a 20-day spring expedition on the Fa’afaite, a 22-meter (72-foot) double-hulled traditional Polynesian pirogue, Jérôme Petit, who directs the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project’s marine conservation efforts in French Polynesia, got a taste of what wayfinders must have felt as they plied these waters for almost 3,000 years, navigating by the stars, sun, flight path of seabirds, ocean currents, salinity, and instinct. This expedition, which carried a diverse crew of experts to numerous isolated island communities, was in support of a large marine reserve proposed by Austral Island leaders.
Working in collaboration with a wide range of groups, Pew helped secure support from 101 nonprofit organizations that co-signed a letter urging members of the European Parliament to vote against subsidies for the construction of new fishing vessels. European Union waters are already subject to heavy fishing, with numerous species at risk of overfishing, and adding more vessels to the fleet would only worsen conditions.
To help address one of the hottest topics in the environmental community today, Pew convened a panel of experts—including Tony Juniper, a noted conservation leader and sustainability adviser to the Prince of Wales, and British Royal Navy Rear Adm. Nick Lambert—to debate the question “Can Technology Save the Earth?” Participants in the event, held in historic One Great George Street building in London, considered the role of technology and how it interconnects with policy and advocacy approaches to conserving our planet for the future.
The Australian Outback, one of the largest wild places in the world, is under threat from invasive plant and animal species, including feral camels, along with wildfires and other byproducts of having too few people managing the land. However, Indigenous communities are leading programs to control those threats while preserving traditions that date back thousands of years. All of this is detailed in the series of papers “My Country, Our Outback,” released by Pew in June.
The high seas make up more than 60 percent of the world’s ocean but are largely ungoverned and thus subject to illegal fishing and other destructive activity. After years of talks, a U.N. Preparatory Committee voted to move forward with formal diplomatic negotiations on a high seas treaty, a critical step toward the conservation and responsible management of marine areas beyond any nation’s jurisdiction, which play a crucial role in our global climate, food supply, and economies.
In a historic milestone, two key fisheries management bodies—the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission’s Northern Committee and the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission—agreed to gradually rebuild Pacific bluefin tuna stocks from their current status of 2.6 percent of pre-fishing levels to 20 percent of those levels by 2034, a sevenfold increase.
At the International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Chile, the Chilean government announced results of an indigenous referendum that supported creation of a marine protected area for the waters surrounding Rapa Nui (Easter Island). President Michelle Bachelet affirmed her 2015 commitment to conserve these waters and is expected to sign the Rapa Nui Marine Protected Area (MPA) into law early this year. (The local people are also called Rapa Nui.) The MPA, one of the largest in the world, will protect 142 species found nowhere else, including 27 that are threatened or endangered, in an area of about 720,000 square kilometers (277,994 square miles)—roughly the size of Chile’s landmass.
With numerous shark species around the world threatened, endangered, or otherwise imperiled due to heavy fishing, the 124 member governments of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals used that body’s Conference of the Parties meeting in Manila, the Philippines, to implement support measures—known as Appendix I and II listings—for six species, giving each a better chance to recover.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a decree creating the Revillagigedo Archipelago National Park, a 148,087-square-kilometer (57,176-square-mile) area of high biodiversity that is known as a marine superhighway for whales, sharks, rays, turtles, and many other species. Many ocean scientists celebrated this designation, which prohibits all forms of fishing and extractive activities in the crown jewel of Mexican waters.
Farther north, 10 governments agreed Nov. 30 to delay the start of commercial fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean until at least 2033 to give scientists time to understand the area’s marine ecology and the impacts of warming on the region before any commercial fishing can begin. This historic deal protects 2.8 million square kilometers (1.08 million square miles) of international waters and follows two years of negotiations among nations with coastal claims and fishing interests in the Arctic.
To meet a 2020 deadline to end overfishing in EU waters, member states will need to follow science-based catch limits. As the European Council met in Brussels to agree on fishing limits for 2018 EU stocks, Pew experts called on decision-makers to resist political pressure and follow the science to end overfishing.
Tom Dillon is a vice president overseeing The Pew Charitable Trusts’ international environment portfolio.