Editorial: Troubled Waters

Publication: Nature

12/07/2011 - The easiest way to create a nature reserve from a car park is simply to declare it as such. The land is then designated as protected, and counts towards the relevant government's targets to set aside a certain amount of its territory from development. That is a ridiculous example, of course, and would never happen on land — so why do we allow a similar exercise to happen in the sea?

No one should doubt that our seas need protection. Overfishing, pollution and climate change are fundamentally changing some of the most important regions on the planet. And the conservation response — marine protected areas (MPAs) — should be a key tool to safeguard the world's maritime environment. By setting aside areas in which human activity is tightly regulated, the thinking goes, governments can ensure that key habitats and species are preserved.


As Australia divides up its waters into a patchwork of protected, recreational, commercial and multipurpose areas, researchers say that the country is ignoring evidence that would make this zoning stronger. These concerns, which surfaced over proposals for the southwest region, again in the northwest region and then most recently in the plan for a huge reserve in the Coral Sea, centre on whether enough sea has been given the highest level of protection and whether the areas that are highly protected include a representative selection of all necessary habitats. The second question in particular is one on which the voices of researchers must be heard by government, and acted on.

Read the full editorial, Troubled Waters, on Nature's Web site.

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