World Parks Congress Aims High to Protect Ocean Life

The 2014 World Parks Congress in Sydney has concluded by setting a high bar for ocean protection and resolving to secure almost a third of the world’s waters in marine sanctuaries by 2030.

Scientists and policy experts at the WPC agreed that the timing is critical for policymakers to act on the scientific case for “at least 30 per cent” sanctuary protection for the world’s oceans.

The once-a-decade WPC brought together over 6,000 people, including scientists, economists, nonprofit representatives, U.N. officials, and experts and delegates from over 170 nations. The discussions and keynote presentations tackled topics such as environmental accounting, reducing the risk and impact of disasters, improving food and water security, halting biodiversity loss on land and sea, and promoting human health through engagement with natural areas.

The resolve of global conservation leaders has increased as threats to the health of marine life have become more extensive and apparent, according to Michelle Grady, director of Australian oceans work with The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Destructive industrial fishing, rising ocean temperatures, and pollution represent a ‘perfect storm’ threatening the future of the very thing that sustains life on this planet: our oceans,” Grady said.

“Sanctuaries are proved to allow fish and other marine life to recover and rebuild and also create resilience from the ravages of climate change. They must be placed at the centre of the world’s action plan to conserve and protect our oceans.”

World-leading marine scientist Callum Roberts, professor at the University of York, said his ongoing research since the 2003 WPC in Durban, South Africa, shows that protecting one-third of ocean habitats will best secure a wide range of conservation and management benefits.

Author of the global target for safeguarding the world’s oceans, Prof Roberts said that, moving forward from the WPC in Sydney, policymakers should aim to secure an even more ambitious objective.

Prof Robert’s ongoing research, soon to be published, indicates that the International Union for Conservation of Nature should build on the WPC’s target from ‘at least’ 30 per cent to 34 per cent in order to maximise benefits.

“Threats of climate change and overfishing have only increased in recent years, so a stronger resolve to maximise the benefits of no-take sanctuaries must now be pursued. Any reduction in efforts at this stage and moment in history would be disastrous for our oceans,” Prof Roberts said.

Prof Roberts' continuing investigations represent a doubling of the number of studies he and other scientists relied on in 2003 to set the target of setting aside 20 to 30 per cent of territorial waters as no-take sanctuary areas at the WPC in South Africa.

He said that the 34 per cent target was necessary to achieve a wide range of benefits, including resilience to the impacts of climate change, the rebuilding of populations of fish and other marine life and restoring and sustaining the productivity of fisheries.

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