U.S. Joins Global Effort to Advance Ocean Protected Areas

The U.S. has joined the U.K., 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), that will work to educate the public and leaders across the globe about how marine protection can contribute to both 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.”

Why This Matters:  Tomorrow is World Ocean Day.  Special Envoy Kerry put it quite well when he has said, in essence, there are no ocean solutions without climate solutions and no climate solutions without ocean solutions.  Here’s a term you will hear a lot in the months to come — “blue carbon” — referring to ocean habitats that capture and/or provide long-term storage of atmospheric carbon, including salt marshes, seagrasses, mangroves, and the seafloor.  Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks across the globe are another set of tools, beyond clean energy and other technologies for reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses, that can pay huge dividends.  There just need to be more MPAs to get to the goal of 30% of the ocean protected by 2030.

Why MPAs?

“The climate crisis is having profound impacts on marine ecosystems,” said John Kerry, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. “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 carbon dioxide humans are putting into the atmosphere and is absorbing 90% of the excess heat trapped by those emissions.

If they are designated for protection, monitored, and managed, MPAs or networks of MPAs provide nature-based solutions to help mitigate, adapt to, and build resilience to 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 that then can “spillover” into adjacent areas, thereby boosting those ecosystems as habitat and as making them more resilient to climate change too.  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.  One of the goals of the coalition, according to Ben Friedman the acting NOAA Administrator, is “sharing 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.”

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