Conversations on protecting our oceans cover a pretty wide range of efforts. There’s no single thing we can do to take care of it all, and even so, do we know a quantifiable amount of work that’s required?
According to a study published in the journal One Earth, at least 26 percent of our oceans’ surfaces need to be relegated to conservation efforts if we want to effectively protect the species living in them. And 26 percent is their suggested minimum, they say. The higher end of their suggestion would actually require around 41 percent of the world’s oceans to be designated for some form of marine protection.
“Preserving a portion of habitat for all marine species would require 8.5 million square kilometers of new conservation areas,” said Dr. Kendall Jones, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student at the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Sciences. “Currently, one-third of all marine species have less than 10 percent of their range covered by protected areas.”
Jones’ team mapped the habitats of 22,885 different marine species, their range, and areas of the world where human impact is very low. From there, they determined minimum and optimal ranges of protection through designating theoretical no-fishing zones, marine reserves, and the policies needed to prevent either illegal or unsustainable commercial fishing practices.
“New conservation priorities based on the 10% range target scenario are primarily located in places where there are few existing areas of conservation or biodiversity importance, and high concentrations of species with low coverage in existing areas of conservation and biodiversity importance,” the report reads. “Key regions for these priority areas include the Northern Pacific Ocean near China and Japan and the Atlantic Ocean between West Africa and the Americas.”
Brazil’s and Indonesia’s coastal areas were designated as the nations with the largest areas in need of new conservation efforts at 452,000 km2 and 388,000 km2 respectively. But outside of designating specific regions and nations in need of conservation efforts, the report pointed to an obvious need to reduce global carbon emissions as well. Meanwhile, the United States, which touches the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico, has the largest marine protected area estate in the world, but the study still classified 168,000 km2 of new conservation priority areas in U.S. waters. On another end of the spectrum, Timor-l’Este, The Bahamas, and Taiwan have the largest proportional areas of conservation priorities relative to their nation’s size.
“Our analysis demonstrates the overall scale of conservation action required in a post-2020 biodiversity framework,” they wrote, “and if combined with an agenda focused on improved management of the ocean in its entirety, these results represent the start of a bold plan for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity.”