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MPA News has been produced for the past 17 years, and a lot has happened in that time. Thousands of MPAs have been designated, hundreds of studies have been published, countless policies and laws have been implemented. But September 2016 was unlike any month we have seen. Over the course of 30 days, more happened in the MPA field than we have witnessed in such a span before:

  • An ambitious new 30% coverage target was set for the MPA field

  • New MPAs totaling millions of square kilometers were designated

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The biggest marine news from the IUCN World Conservation Congress, held in Hawai'i in September, was the approval by IUCN members of a new global target for MPAs. It calls for “30% of each marine habitat” to be set aside in “highly protected MPAs and other effective area-based conservation measures” by 2030, with the ultimate aim being ”a fully sustainable ocean, at least 30% of which has no extractive activities.”

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Climate change is already causing significant impacts to the world ocean, according to a new report by IUCN that is the most comprehensive review so far on the subject. Compiled by 80 scientists from 12 countries, the report finds ocean warming is already:

  • Driving entire groups of species such as plankton, jellyfish, turtles, and seabirds up to 10 degrees of latitude toward the poles;
  • Causing the bleaching and death of many coral reefs and other fish habitats;
  • Causing the loss of breeding grounds for turtles and seabirds;
  • Affecting the breeding success of marine mammals;
  • Increasing disease in plant and animal populations, and impacting human health as pathogens spread more easily in warmer waters, including cholera-bearing bacteria and harmful algal blooms.
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Major international conferences like the World Conservation Congress in Hawai'i provide a high-profile opportunity to launch new publications. Several that debuted at the WCC are listed below:

  • Protected Planet 2016: UNEP and IUCN’s latest global accounting of the progress of protected area designation finds that 4.1% of the global ocean is now in MPAs. That figure rises to 10.2% when considering just marine areas within national jurisdiction, without the high seas. Representativeness remains a challenge: only one-third of the world’s 232 marine ecoregions have at least 10% of their area protected. The report also illustrates how protected areas contribute to 15 of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as to targets of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The report is free.

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Additional outcomes from the World Conservation Congress in September included:

  • IUCN members passed a motion that asks states to advance the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This includes contributing to the ongoing UN negotiations to develop a legally binding instrument that, among other things, would establish a framework for high seas MPAs.
MPA News

The IUCN World Conservation Congress wasn’t the only conference in September with significant implications for marine conservation. The ‘Our Ocean’ conference, hosted by the US Department of State on 15-16 September, elicited its own slate of commitments by nations’ leaders to conserve their marine waters. Additionally, multiple foundations and NGOs offered their own commitments to support marine conservation in various ways.

These commitments have become a hallmark of the annual Our Ocean conference: it exists largely for nations and institutions to declare what they plan to do, or in some cases what they have already done, to conserve the oceans. The US Department of State claims that, to date, the three Our Ocean conferences have generated commitments to protect 9.9 million km2 of ocean.

MPA News

On 15 September, the UK Government announced progress on protecting four remote overseas UK territories:

  • Pitcairn: The enormous and long-anticipated MPA around the Pitcairn Islands in the south Pacific is now formally designated. Covering 840,000 km2, or 99% of Pitcairn’s EEZ, the MPA is closed to all commercial extractive activity. Subsistence fishing by locals is still allowed. For background on this MPA and the campaign by Pitcairn islanders for its designation (dating back to 2013), see MPA News articles here, here and here. Additional information from the Pew Charitable Trusts, which supported the Pitcairners on their campaign, is here.
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One year ago at the Our Ocean Conference in 2015, held in Valparaiso, Chile, the Chilean Government announced its plan to create a large no-take MPA around the Desventuradas Islands, about 900 km off the coast of the country. On 24 August this year, the Government made it official, designating the 297,000-km2 Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park.

MPA News

In 2012, Australia’s ruling Labor Government at the time designated an extensive system of Commonwealth Marine Reserves, increasing the nation’s MPA system from 27 sites to 60 and covering more than 3 million km2 in total. Described by the Government as the most comprehensive marine park network worldwide, the system included the new Coral Sea Marine Reserve, a nearly 1 million-km2 area of which half would be no-take.

The following year, a new Coalition Government was voted into power. The new leaders had campaigned against the reserve system, suggesting it had been imposed without fair or adequate consultation with industry. In response they instituted a review process to reassess the science and zoning of the new reserves. While the review process proceeded, the boundaries of the reserves remained but their management plans were effectively in limbo: their regulations remained as they were prior to designation.