How Much Does Marine Conservation Help the Ocean?

6 questions for Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project’s new director

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How Much Does Marine Conservation Help the Ocean?

The ocean is essential for life on Earth, home to nearly a quarter of known species and a vital source of food and income for billions of people. But it’s also under increasing threat—from climate change and a wide array of other human-caused stressors.

Fortunately, numerous governments and groups are working to protect the ocean, including through the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs), which have been scientifically shown to greatly benefit nature and people.

Among those groups is the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project. Over the past decade, the project has helped many governments create large-scale, fully protected MPAs. And it now has a new director: Giuseppe Di Carlo, who has led ocean conservation efforts around the globe, including by managing the Isola di Ustica Marine Reserve in Italy. Below, Di Carlo shares his thoughts on what brought him to the job and what he hopes to accomplish through it.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?

I have always had a passion for animals, and I aspired to become a veterinarian. When I was younger, my family had a house on Italy’s Favignana Island, and the waters surrounding it eventually became part of a marine protected area. One summer, I took a scuba diving class, which completely changed my life trajectory. Over the years, I became a diving instructor and opened a diving center.

As I continued diving and exploring my fascination with the ocean, I realized I wanted to dedicate my career to protecting and conserving this incredible ecosystem. So, when it came time to enroll at university, I knew I wanted to study marine science. Throughout my career, especially in the early days as a marine scientist, I had the opportunity to dive in some of the most incredible places on Earth, including the Galápagos and Raja Ampat in Indonesia. My experiences have only further solidified my passion for marine conservation and my desire to make a positive impact on the health of our oceans.

Giuseppe Di Carlo
Giuseppe Di Carlo participating in a campaign to tag bluefin tuna off Sicily.
Courtesy of Giuseppe Di Carlo

Did managing an MPA shape your experience in any way?

Absolutely. Managing an MPA was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. As practitioners, we often advise resource and MPA managers on many issues, including fisheries management. One of the challenges of MPA management is balancing conservation priorities with the needs and expectations of a variety of stakeholders, which can be especially difficult when conflicting interests are at play. There are many different concepts and principles that are used to guide MPA management, but it can be challenging to put these into action. The best way to understand MPA management is to actually do it!

I also learned a lot about the importance of working closely with local communities. Many MPAs are located in areas where local communities have a long history of resource use and are deeply connected to the natural environment. Building trust and working in partnership with these communities is essential to the success of any MPA.

What are the first three steps a government should take if it wants to create an MPA?

First, the proposal for a new MPA should emerge from a joint interest of government, scientists, and local stakeholders. Traditional knowledge and scientific data should provide the underpinning for any MPA proposal. Second, clear social and ecological goals need to be set. MPAs need to meet conservation objectives while supporting local livelihood and ensuring food security. All of this needs to be in place before an official announcement or declaration is made. Third, the governance of the MPA should be defined, ensuring that stakeholders’ and rights-holders’ interests are well represented. A formal co-management could be put in place at this time. Finally, boundaries need to be identified and agreed based on key ecological and social design principles and with knowledge of pre-existing rights and uses.

For more info on the steps involved in creating an MPA, I would suggest looking at the recently published The MPA Guide.

Giuseppe Di Carlo, center, in 2018 with Karmenu Vella, left, the former European Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, and Abdellah Srour, the former executive secretary of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.
Claudia Amico

What led you to the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project?

I was drawn to the project because of its ambitious goal to create fully protected marine areas around the world. The scope and geographic reach of the project are unique, and I was excited by the project’s commitment to creating a legacy of marine conservation that will last for generations. It’s an honor to be part of a partnership that has already fully protected more than 10 million square kilometers of waters.

I am also impressed by the leadership and dedication of the project’s partner, Dona Bertarelli. She is a committed philanthropist and great advocate for the ocean. Few marine conservation programs can count on this level of commitment from a partner.

How can the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project work with countries to help contribute to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity's goal of protecting and conserving 30% of the planet by 2030?

The “30 by 30” goal is ambitious and important, and achieving it won’t be easy.

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project has a wealth of experience in creating and managing marine protected areas and can provide practical guidance and support to governments and communities as they work to establish new MPAs and expand existing ones.

We are committed to working collaboratively with partners and stakeholders to achieve 30 by 30. Given the enormous challenge, it will be important for the conservation community to work in partnership to turn this target into a reality.

How do highly and fully protected MPAs contribute to the overall health of the ocean and benefit people?

A wealth of scientific literature proves that highly and fully protected MPAs provide the greatest benefits for oceans and people. Research shows that one way to reverse many detrimental impacts is through the creation and enforcement of large, fully protected marine areas. MPAs help conserve biodiversity, increase fish populations, benefit neighboring ecosystems, safeguard predators, maintain ecosystem stability, and help preserve cultures with close ties to the sea. Over the past decade, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project has helped many governments create large-scale, fully protected MPAs.

While restrictions inside of highly and fully protected marine protection areas can cause short-term economic losses, evidence shows MPAs provide long-term benefits that improve the overall health of the ocean and the lives of people. The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project promotes a combination of protection levels that deliver the greatest benefits to ocean life while also ensuring that the livelihoods of local communities are protected. 

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