Increased Protection Will Provide Big Boost to the Ocean Economy WWF-Hong Kong urges marine protected areas in at least 10 per cent of local watersExpanding our protection of the ocean could result in a surprising payback: an increase in jobs, resources and services that far outweigh the costs of such protection, according to an analysis of new research commissioned by WWF on marine protected areas. Released alongside discussions at this week’s World Ocean Summit hosted by the Economist Intelligence Unit, this analysis comes months before governments begin to make critical decisions that will direct the fate of the world’s oceans for generations to come. WWF-Hong Kong firmly believes that increased protection is essential to securing the livelihoods of people who live in close proximity to the sea, especially those involved in the fishing and tourism industries.
The analysis shows that every dollar invested in creating marine protected areas – commonly known as MPAs – is expected to be at least tripled in the benefits returned through improvements in factors like employment, coastal protection and fisheries.
“The ocean is central to all of our lives and we need to be both its stewards and its managers. A healthy ocean safeguards our coasts, stores carbon, creates employment and feeds families,” said Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International. “Marine protected areas can have the double impact of contributing to a healthy ocean and creating important economic opportunities.”
Current international targets for ocean protection range from 10 per cent by 2020 through to 30 per cent by 2030. At present, less than four per cent of the world’s oceans are designated for protection, with many MPAs lacking effective implementation and management. In Hong Kong, this number is even lower – less than two per cent – and the level of protection given to some marine species, including the threatened Chinese white dolphin, is far from adequate.
Among the major global threats facing the oceans are overfishing, pollution, sedimentation and habitat destruction. Warming seas and increased acidification caused by climate change are expected to have devastating impacts on coral reefs and other important ocean systems. Meanwhile the specific threats to Hong Kong waters are especially severe, and include rampant coastal development, reclamation, heavy marine traffic, water pollution, unsustainable fisheries management and shocking quantities of marine litter. These threats are combining to push local marine ecosystems and species to the verge of collapse.
Samantha Lee, Assistant Conservation Manager, Marine, WWF-Hong Kong remarked that “The Hong Kong government allocates vast amounts of resources to development, but spends mere pennies on habitat conservation. Over the past few decades, we have lost almost 7,000 hectares of sea area – uncountable numbers of marine species have lost their homes, while fishermen have had to abandon their fishing grounds. Change is urgently needed. If more MPAs can be created in Hong Kong, our rich marine biodiversity can be sustained and preserved, while fish stocks will have chance to recover and our slowly-dying fishing industry can be rejuvenated. In addition, marine-related eco-tourism opportunities can be developed and provide jobs and opportunities to a large number of local people.”
“We cannot continue to overstrain and underinvest in the ocean,” said Lambertini. “The ocean is collapsing before our eyes, but the good news is that we have the tools to fix it. It is possible for the ocean to make strong contributions to lives and livelihoods while we also secure its habitats and biodiversity for future generations.”
When properly designed and managed, ecologically coherent networks of MPAs form safe havens for marine life. The areas protect and restore habitats and species, resulting in a more resilient ocean which is better prepared to withstand the assault of climate change. When implemented in unison with sustainable fisheries management regimes and measures to minimise pollution, MPAs provide a solid basis for healthy marine ecosystems both locally and regionally.
The new analysis is based on a WWF-commissioned study produced by Amsterdam’s VU University, modelling MPA expansion at both the 10 per cent and 30 per cent target levels. The report found that increased protection of critical habitats could result in net benefits of between US$490 billion and US$920 billion accruing over the period 2015-2050. WWF recommends 30 per cent global coverage of MPAs by 2030 in order to secure the most complete benefits for people and the ocean.
Existing protected areas in regions like the Mediterranean, the Coral Triangle and coastal Africa demonstrate how people can benefit from increased ocean protection. Locally-managed marine areas in Fiji show that MPAs can reduce poverty, strengthen governance and benefit human health and gender equality.
“Real-world examples prove that marine protected areas work; solid economic analysis shows that they are well worth it. Increasing investment in protected areas is a wise choice for communities, governments, businesses and financial institutions interested in the bottom line and securing a sustainable blue economy,” said Lambertini.
This year is particularly important for the world’s oceans. In September, governments will meet to agree on a set of goals as part of the UN post-2015 sustainable development agenda. WWF's analysis recommends that the agreement include strong targets and indicators for the ocean, and commitments to coherent policy, financing, trade and technology frameworks to restore and protect ocean ecosystems. The global climate conference later in the year to forge a new global agreement on climate change is another critical opportunity to commit the action, resources, and leadership necessary to restoring the health of the oceans.
This new marine protected areas analysis is one of several pieces of WWF ocean research under discussion at this week’s World Ocean Summit 2015. WWF’s participation at the event, organized by The Economist in Cascais, Portugal, highlights the need to safeguard the ocean’s health and economic well-being and the fact that protecting ocean habitats is the essential foundation of the blue economy.
WWF’s global ocean campaign, Sustain Our Seas, builds on decades of work by the organization and its partners on marine conservation. WWF is working with governments, businesses and communities to encourage leaders to take urgent measures to revive the ocean economy and protect the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world.