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Marine Protected Areas – Letting Nature Bounce Back

Given some breathing space, the ocean and marine wildlife can recover, rebuild resilience and adapt to climate change.

It is widely acknowledged that the ocean is in crisis. Overfishing, destruction of natural habitat, pollution and climate change have all led to a continuous deterioration of marine biodiversity. The population of many species is decreasing at an unsustainable rate and the number of endangered species is on the rise. A third of the global fish stocks are overfished and we’ve already lost 90% of big ocean fish.

The time to act and protect marine ecosystems is now.

Why should we protect the ocean and marine wildlife?

The answer is simple – it sustains the health of this planet and our lives.

The ocean constitutes over 70% of the surface of Earth and contains about 97% of all the water on the planet. It generates over half of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs nearly a third of our carbon emissions. A healthy ocean regulates climate and reduces the impact of climate change.

The ocean is also home to uniquely diverse ecosystems. These marine ecosystems are indispensable to human existence – our nourishment, health, safety and economy. The ocean provides at least one fifth of the animal protein we consume. It contains ingredients critical for medications to maintain human health and treat diseases. Coastal habitats such as barrier reefs and mangroves provide natural storm protection. Marine wildlife is invaluable to tourism and recreation. Today, around three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods.

How can we protect marine wildlife?

One of the most effective ways to protect and restore marine biodiversity are Marine Protected Areas.

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are designated sections of the ocean protected from damaging human activities. They are created to promote biodiversity, build resilience against climate change and increase fish stocks.

MPAs vary depending on the types of activities that are permitted within their boundaries. Around 8% of the ocean is designated as MPAs, and as such under some kind of protection, but only 2.7% is in fully protected zones and completely off limits to fishing. This low level of protection is largely due to conflicts with fisheries and other extractive uses, even though there is evidence that fully protected areas can help replenish the waters around them.

In fact, a recent study, ‘Protecting the global ocean for biodiversity, food and climate’ estimates that protecting 29% of the ocean would secure 8.3 million tons of extra seafood. Beyond food security, this innovative study found that a substantial increase in strict ocean protection in strategic areas around the world could achieve triple benefits: protecting biodiversity, increasing the catch of fisheries and mitigating climate change by securing marine carbon stocks.

How nature can bounce back

One frequently quoted story of a successful MPA is Cabo Pulmo National Park in Baja California. This no-take marine reserve was created in 1995 by the people of Cabo Pulmo to try and restore the marine life depleted by overfishing. The results have been astonishing. In just 10 years the total fish biomass (the total mass of living biological organisms) within the reserve increased by more than 460%. What’s more, the area saw the return of large predators, like groupers, jacks and sharks. The presence of sharks is a clear characteristic of a healthy marine ecosystem being restored.

The revival of the marine life has led to significant economic benefits for the local community: a profitable tourism industry and bigger catch for the fishermen as the fish migrate outside the protected area.

The success of Cabo Pulmo shows that complete restoration of even a severely depleted marine area is achievable. But it is still rare and only possible with full support from the local community. The natural ecosystem in Cabo Pulmo is able to thrive again largely due to the persistent efforts of the people of Cabo Pulmo who have strictly enforced the ‘no-take’ restrictions.


The 8th June is World Ocean Day and the focus this year is ‘Protecting 30% of our blue planet for a healthy ocean and climate’.

This pledge is part of a wider campaign to protect 30% of the planet’s land and ocean by 2030. Backed by scientific evidence, the campaign sets the 30% target as the level of protection required to safeguard global biodiversity and defend against climate change.

We can all support this vital campaign – find out how.

Discover other ways you can help protect the ocean by joining Now-u’s campaign promoting marine wildlife conservation.

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Community Interest Company (12709184) and Charitable Incorporated Organisation (1196568)