US Joins Global Effort to Advance Ocean Protected Areas

Ocean Conservation MPAs US

The US has joined the UK, Chile, Costa Rica, and France in a coalition aiming to increase the amount of ocean area under legal protection as a solution to mitigate climate change. Together these five countries last week launched the International Partnership on Marine Protected Areas, Biodiversity and Climate Change, per the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The alliance will work to educate both the public and leaders across the globe about how marine protection contributes to mitigating climate change and reducing biodiversity loss. "All nations rely on healthy marine ecosystems to support life on this planet," said Jane Lubchenco, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. "Marine protected areas -- but especially highly protected ones -- are an effective nature-based solution for adapting to and mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity."

NOAA Sanctuaries: International Partnership on Marine Protected Areas, Biodiversity, and Climate Change, June 2, 2021.

Key figures of Marine Protected Areas (Artwork by Ivan Colic for for the Save Our Seas Foundation).

Why This Matters

1. Today is World Oceans Day. Special Envoy Kerry put it quite well when he said, in essence: there are no ocean solutions without climate solutions and no climate solutions without ocean solutions.

2. Blue carbon: it's a term you will hear a lot in the months to come, and it refers to ocean habitats that capture and/or provide long-term storage of atmospheric carbon, including salt marshes, seagrasses, mangroves, and the seafloor.

3. Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks are another set of tools, beyond clean energy and other technologies, that can reduce greenhouse gas emission and pay huge dividends. There just need to be more MPAs to get to the goal of 30% of the ocean protected by 2030.

Conservation International: What on Earth is Blue Carbon?, July 29, 2019.

Marine Conservation Institute: Marine Protection Atlas, 2020.

Why MPAs?

Per John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate:

The climate crisis is having profound impacts on marine ecosystems … At the same time, the ocean is a source of sustainable climate solutions. These include marine protected areas, which can help build climate resilience and store carbon while conserving biodiversity. This is a decisive decade to dramatically scale up ocean and climate action -- which are two sides of the same coin.

Scientists know that the ocean, as 70% of the Earth's surface, already captures nearly a third of the carbon dioxide humans put into the atmosphere and absorbs 90% of the excess heat trapped by those emissions. If MPAs are designated for protection, monitored, and managed, they will provide nature-based solutions to help mitigate, adapt to, and build resilience against the impacts of climate change. In addition, by conserving or enhancing marine biodiversity, these protected areas have the added benefit of increasing biodiversity and the sheer amount (or biomass) of certain species. These increases could then "spillover" into adjacent areas, thereby boosting those ecosystems and making them more resilient to climate change.

Scientists have determined that when effectively managed, MPAs are one of the most cost-effective strategies for protecting ocean biodiversity. But more study is needed to understand how to maximize the benefits of MPAs for blue carbon storage. According to Ben Friedman the acting NOAA Administrator, one goal of the coalition is:

[S]haring knowledge and expertise, and working cooperatively to address scientific knowledge gaps. Together, we will develop a deeper understanding of how Marine Protected Areas may combat climate change while supporting sustainable economic development.

WW0 IG Live: John Kerry and Enric Sala | The Nature of Nature: Why We Need The Wild, Sep 30, 2020.