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Securing a Bold and Prosperous Future for Our Ocean

Gary E. Knell - National Geographic
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January 28, 2017

How We Can Keep Plastics Out of Our Ocean (National Geographic)

The ocean is powerful, but not invincible. It is rich, but not inexhaustible.

For humans to thrive in the coming centuries, we will have to be smarter about how we approach the 70 percent of our planet the ocean covers.

A century ago, we were exploring and enacting protections for vast tracts of land through the work of organizations like the newly created National Park Service in the United States. In the ocean, however, humans were still participating in the industrialized exploitation of whales and unabashedly pushing several species to the brink of extinction. Today, people catch millions of sharks, tuna and other top predators each year, and have moved on to smaller fish since the populations of the largest species have become so diminished.

While a great deal of progress was made over the last year - due to the creation or expansion of an unprecedented number of marine protected areas (MPAs) of groundbreaking size - there is still significant work to be done. Protection is a first and necessary step. But it will require ongoing and increased investment in research, exploration, and enforcement if it is to succeed in the long term.

In 2016, news of historic protections in the Arctic, Atlantic, Pacific, and Southern oceans dominated headlines around the world. In August, President Obama significantly expanded the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument near Hawaii, which was originally designated by George W. Bush in 2006. This action preserved just over 1.5m square kilometers (580,000 square miles) of ocean territory, temporarily making it the largest MPA in the world. It held that title until October, when the European Union and 24 countries - including Russia, China and the United States - agreed to create an even bigger marine reserve in the Ross Sea off Antarctica. This reserve comprises around 1.55m square kilometers (600,000 square miles) of ocean largely untouched by humans, which, beginning in December 2017, will stay that way for decades to come.

Central and South American countries also worked together to expand protections around Malpelo and the Cocos and Galápagos islands; Russia expanded the Russian Arctic National Park and President Obama announced the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, the first United States MPA in the Atlantic.

Conservation is one motivator for creating MPAs, but it’s not the only one. There is also an economic incentive.

Read the rest at National Geographic

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