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Sinners and winners in the race to protect the oceans revealed

Citizens of Monaco, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Portugal: be proud, your countries are top of the league when it comes to ocean protection. Most of the rest of the world: hang your head in shame.

Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, 10% of the world’s marine environment is supposed to be protected in reserves called marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. The top three countries have done their bit, protecting 100%, 97% and 52%, respectively, of the ‘exclusive economic zones’ they have jurisdiction over, according to a new league table.

Obviously this is somewhat easier for a country such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, which only has 21 square kilometres of exclusive economic zones, than it is for Australia, which has over 9 million square kilometres and currently lies nineteenth, despite having already protected vastly more sea than most other nations even rule over. But the analysis, from the Marine Reserves Coalition in London, shows that only 19 sovereign states have either achieved or exceeded the 10% target as the Rio +20 Earth Summit gets underway.

At the bottom end of the scale, Nauru, Benin, Togo and Iraq have not protected any of their waters. And when international waters are taken into account to the percentage of the oceans under protection plummets.

“Despite the promising figures at the top of the league table, total global MPA coverage stands at just 2.6%,” said Fiona Llewellyn, the MRC coordinator at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), in a statement. “The world’s governments have not acted responsibly, and despite commitments to safeguard marine life by creating protected areas, there has been very little implementation of these promises.” [See below for updated numbers.]

Another issue is that much of the area protected in MPAs is not fully ‘no-take’, where no fishing is allowed. The ZSL and the coalition revealed the tables today as part of a side event at the Rio +20 meeting, where they are trying to get governments to re-commit to the 10% target.

There are some promising signs. An increasing number of very large MPAs have been created in recent years. Earlier this week the Australian government unveiled its ambitious marine park plans, which if confirmed will send it rocketing up from 19th to 7th in the new league table [see below for updated numbers].

UPDATE – 18/6: The ZSL has released updated figures based on a detailed look at Australia’s reserves. Total global MPA coverage now stands at 3.2% and 11,527,960 square kilometres. Australia is actually in seventh place on a final analysis, bumping down Finland to eighth, Jordan to ninth and the United Kingdom to tenth.


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