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More than 98% of U.S. waters outside the central Pacific are not part of the Marine Conservation Zone, and those that are typically “slightly” or “minimally” protected from harmful human activities, according to research conducted by the University of Oregon.

Posted today in Boundaries in Marine Science, the study studied the country’s 50 largest marine protected areas, or MPAs, using an innovative guide created last year by some of the same scientists who worked on the current study. These 50 make up 99.7% of the MPA coverage of the United States.

Among the findings of the study: The US needs to create more and more effective MPAs – and fast.

“These findings underscore the urgent need to improve the quality, quantity, and representativeness of IPA protection in U.S. waters to benefit human and marine communities,” said Jenna Sullivan-Stack, a researcher at Oregon State University and lead author of the study.

U.S. waters include the territorial sea, which extends 12 nautical miles from shore, as well as the adjacent zone (24 nautical miles) and the exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles).

According to the criteria established by “The MPA Guide: A Basis for Achieving Global Goals for the Ocean”Published in Science in September 2021, 99% of U.S. waters that are “fully” or “highly” protected are in the central Pacific.

That is critical marine systemsfor example, in the Atlantic, Arctic, and Northeastern Pacific Oceans and the Caribbean, vulnerable to “unprecedented pressure,” as is the coastal economy that depends on these systems, said co-author Kirsten Groud-Colvert, Associate Professor, Department of Science ODE.

“The benefits of marine protected areas are key to our future,” said Grorud-Colvert, who led the MPA Guide project. “MPA coverage in regions outside the central Pacific is surprisingly rare, and gaps in defense pose a challenge to achieving the goals set by the Biden administration America is beautiful initiative ”.

America’s beautiful goals include conserving at least 30% of the country’s land and water by 2030. After using the MPA Guide to assess the 50 largest U.S. marine protected areas, scientists have identified 25.2% of U.S. territory. the ocean be “completely” or “highly” protected.

The analysis of the United States MPA involved 31 scholars, which, as the authors note, is one of the first systematic applications of the MPA Guide. The guide is based on criteria derived from decades of research into ecosystems and human communities around the world, so marine protection zones can be accurately assessed as fully, highly, weakly or minimally protected, Grorud-Colvert said.

This information on the quality of protected areas is crucial, she added, as policymakers try to measure and improve the level of protection offered by existing MPAs, and work on developing new ones.

It also emphasizes the need to improve equity and other social and environmental conditions necessary for the effectiveness of territories, added Ana Spaulding of OSU, another co-author of the analysis.

“It is important to recognize that well-managed MPAs designed with a local context can bring benefits that go beyond marine life for coastal communities that depend on sustainable marine resources for their livelihoods and cultural survival,” said Spaulding, an associate professor. Marine and Coastal Policy in Oregon and a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution for Tropical Research.

In addition to calls for more complete and protected areas, the authors offer other recommendations for U.S. politicians, including:

  • Create new networked MPAs with better representation of marine biodiversity, regions and habitats. “The huge Central Pacific MPAs are valuable and should be celebrated, but we need to build effective networks in other areas as well,” Sullivan-Stack said. “This will provide the social benefits of MPA within reach for many other communities.”
  • Improve attention and commitment to equity in new and existing MPAs. “The careful involvement of various rights holders and stakeholders, especially indigenous peoples and other historically excluded communities, in the creation, development, implementation, management and impact assessment of MPAs can enhance the overall effectiveness of MPAs,” Spalding said.
  • Track the MPA’s ability to deliver results, not just the area they cover. “And the results of facilities that provide effective and lasting conservation benefits but are not MPAs, such as closed military territories, should also be tracked when the U.S. is working toward a 30×30 target,” Grorud-Colvert said.
  • Make sure the MPA is built for the long term. According to scientists, it is necessary to create or strengthen management structures and long-term financial support for personnel, monitoring, etc. “More research is needed on how to make sure MPAs are climate-ready and can help mitigate the effects of climate change,” Sullivan-Stack said.
  • Draw on existing MPA initiatives at the state and local levels. “Government support is critical to achieving America’s federal goals of Beautiful America,” Spaulding said. “State initiatives can include executive and legislative action, information and education, and stakeholder coordination, while the needs of the local community can and should be aligned with environmental needs.”

Improving ocean protection with the first guide to marine protected areas

Additional information:
Scientific Synthesis of Marine Protected Areas in the United States: Status and Recommendations Boundaries in Marine Science (2022).

Citation: There are serious gaps in the United States’ ocean conservation efforts, according to an analysis (2022, May 18), obtained May 18, 2022, from efforts-major-gaps.html

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