A 10% Plan for Marine Reserves

We propose that 10% of the world oceans should be covered with no-take marine reserves within fifteen years. Although we will focus on 10% of ocean area, we acknowledge that other related coverage goals have been proposed. One of the most common alternatives is to cover a particular percentage of fish stocks with marine reserves (Madin 2001). While such a plan is good in principle, we contend that our proposed metric is the easiest to apply quickly and effectively.

We suggest that this figure and timescale is a reasonable middle ground between social and scientific concerns. Specifically, we feel that this is the most conservative coverage amount that can be reasonably expected to provide considerable ecological benefits.

We assert that having a clear and explicit goal is important in several respects:

Through this goal, we seek to minimize the impacts of the proposal on human culture and economics, while strongly emphasizing that a rapid and non-trivial investment today is needed for the sake of the future.

In addition, we acknowledge that such a proposal for marine reserves must be part of a broader, global effort for improved sustainability in fisheries and in general. It is essential that marine reserves be used in conjunction with more traditional management methods, such as gear restrictions, quotas, etc., which are detailed in other sections of the website. Such an integrated system would zone a much larger proportion of the oceans as MPAs, with varying degrees of protection, with the no-take reserves acting as the core of the system.

For more on other management methods, see the rest of the solution, espeically technology and aquaculture.

Although the 10% figure may seem arbitrary, it is actually well supported by both scientific models and empirical evidence. For instance, modeling by Guenétte, et. al (2000) has provided strong evidence that substantial benefits can be derived from relatively small closed areas (between 10-20% of the study area), as long as they are strategically located and augmented by other management methods. Real-world experience with existing marine reserves has confirmed that the most convincing evidence of large-scale ecological benefit begins to appear when at least 10% of a given ocean area is protected (Gell & Roberts 2003). We will admit that from a purely scientific standpoint, a larger coverage goal on the order of 20-30% would give a still greater probability of success (Gell & Roberts 2003); however, the difficulty of gaining support for such large coverage figures makes these more ambitious goals impractical.

As for acceptability, consider that just over 11.5% of global surface area currently falls under some type of state-designated protection (UNEP 2006). These data imply that a comparable level of coverage for the oceans is not an unrealistic target. Even noting that the coverage from country to country is uneven, there is clear global precedent for conservation, with diverse regions such as Central America, East Asia, Southern Africa, Europe, Australia, and North America all exceeding the global average (UNEP 2006). Given the proper motivation through education, social development programs, and the like, it is very conceivable that this 10% proposal could become broadly acceptable (Ballantine 1991).

Next: Making the most of 10% (selecting locations for the reserves)


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