Our sea creatures are in trouble. What with warming temperatures, pollution, plastic debris and over-fishing, the oceans need protecting more than ever before. And governments are becoming more committed to creating marine reserves. But are they just paying lip service to the problem or really addressing it? Too often a marine reserve allows commercial fishing and other exploitation. A marine reserve which isn’t really a marine reserve at all.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) has therefore issued guidelines to be clear what are the most significant and of highest priority in marine protected areas (MPAs). The new guidelines will define marine protected areas, preventing industry-affiliated bodies from claiming an MPA even though they are exploiting the ocean by fishing, drilling or laying pipelines. The guidelines will provide a reference against which to check how countries are progressing with conservation actions for the marine environment.

“As we edge closer towards conditions that seem to signal a major ocean extinction event what we need are proper, meaningful conservation actions that move towards restoring the ocean, its resilience and its health,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “In recent years pressure to deliver success stories has resulted in false claims of vast areas of the ocean being properly protected. It is time to be realistic about our definition of MPAs.”

IUCN defines a protected area as: A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.

“It is time to stop pretending more of the ocean is protected than it actually is. Understanding what is protected in the ocean and how it is protected is of paramount importance in driving global conservation efforts forward,” says Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice-Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “The guidance we are issuing aims to make clear the most important aspects of marine protected areas and will help countries more accurately detail their successes. Without this information it is difficult to hold the process of determining marine protected areas accountable.”

Further Reading: IUCN