‘Marine Protected Areas must be evaluated for effectiveness’

At present, focus is only on coverage; quality and effectiveness not assessed, point out experts

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Thursday 09 February 2023
At present, only about 6% of the ocean is under Marine Protected Areas. Photo: iStock
At present, only about 6% of the ocean is under Marine Protected Areas. Photo: iStock At present, only about 6% of the ocean is under Marine Protected Areas. Photo: iStock

Roughly 10 million square kilometres of the ocean must be annually brought under Marine Protected Areas (MPA) to protect 30 per cent of the world’s ocean by 2030, according to experts speaking at the ongoing fifth International Marine Protected Areas Congress.

Countries set a target of protecting 30 per cent of the planet’s lands and oceans by 2030 at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) held in 2022.

Currently, MPAs represent only about 6 per cent of the ocean. Of this, 2.4 per cent are fully and highly protected and 3.6 per cent are highly protected. The remaining 0.8 per cent are designated and 2 per cent have been proposed and committed.

Read more: Climate-smart marine protected areas can shield biota from global warming: Experts

Fully protected areas prevent extractive or destructive activities, while highly protected MPAs allow light extractive activities. New MPAs must increase dramatically to 30 per cent in the next seven years, an expert from Marine Conservation Institute said.

However, it is essential to focus on the quantity and quality of MPAs, they added. Implemented and actively managed MPAS that are fully or highly protected yield the greatest conservation outcomes.

Progress made by MPAs could only be estimated once baseline information is known, it was noted at the Congress. “How will we measure progress without an accurate accounting of what we already have,” experts said.

Helen Klimmek, Programme Officer, Protected Planet Initiative, discussed ways to comprehensively monitor the effectiveness of protected areas (PA) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) at the global level.

OECMs are different from PAs. “OECMs can include areas that are managed by small-scale fisheries, by low-impact agroforestry, among many other types of rights holders and actors who manage areas,” Emily Darling, director of coral reef conservation at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), told conservation news web portal Mongabay.

At CBD COP15, nations agreed to monitor and report progress on headline indicators, including the percentage of land and seas effectively conserved.

Read more: Marine protected areas are underfunded. Experts discuss ways to address the funding gap

Parties are expected to report on these headline indicators in their national reports, which are expected in 2026 and 2029. But the indicator for PAs and OECMs focuses on coverage and does not mention assessing quality, including its effectiveness, Klimmek highlighted.

However, there is still hope. A Technical Expert Group has been set up to support further development of the monitoring framework, the expert pointed out.

Klimmek presented a three-step approach to evaluate the effectiveness. This involves providing scores based on effectiveness and analysing how these scores improve with time.

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