With Global MPA Coverage Falling Short of 10% Target, Biodiversity Summit Extends Deadline

MPA News

The global MPA field has been given more time to reach the target of protecting 10% of all marine and coastal ecoregions in protected areas. The target, set in 2005 by a subsidiary body of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), was supposed to be met by 2012. But the latest calculations of global MPA coverage show the world falling far short of the goal with just 1% of marine waters currently in MPAs. Although some coastal countries have surpassed the goal in their own waters, the great majority of nations has not.

In October at the 10th Conference of the Parties to the CBD (held in Nagoya, Japan), delegates from 193 countries reached agreement on extending the 2012 deadline to 2020. The eight-year extension is in hopes that lagging nations will use the extra time to expand and strengthen their MPA systems. The decision was welcomed by some MPA professionals who saw the original 2012 deadline as too difficult to meet. Others, in contrast, viewed the extension as bowing to national-level failures and setting the bar too low for ocean protection. (See article "Views on Global MPA Coverage and the 10% Target", this issue.)

Reaching agreement on the extension was not easy, and took until the final day of the 12-day conference. Over the preceding days China had lobbied to lower the target - to just 6% coverage in MPAs by 2020. EU delegates countered by calling for 20% of coastal and marine areas to be protected. Ultimately the parties agreed simply to keep the 10% target and extend the deadline.

Current MPA coverage

Looming over the meeting was a new report co-published by IUCN, UNEP, The Nature Conservancy and other organizations that documented current global MPA coverage at 4.2 million km2, or just 1.17% of the oceans. The report Global Ocean Protection: Current Trends and Future Opportunities concluded that to reach the 10% target, the world will have to set aside an additional 32 million km2 - an area roughly twice the size of Russia. (The report is available at www.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/2010-053.pdf.)

Furthermore, only 12 out of 190 nations and territories with marine jurisdictions have MPA coverage of 10% or more. It is clear there is a lot of work to do, even to meet the extended goal.

However, there is good news, too. The report finds that the MPA coverage is very patchy, and some areas and habitat types are far ahead of the curve on protection. One-quarter of all mangroves, for example, fall within MPAs. And nearly one-fifth of shelf ecoregions in the world have greater than 10% MPA coverage.

It is also clear that the 2012 CBD target helped spur multiple major MPA designations in recent months, including in the weeks leading up to the October CBD meeting. The Global Ocean Protection report, in fact, does not include in its calculations the new 150,000-km2 Sala y Gómez Marine Park in Chile, which was designated in October and announced in Nagoya. It also leaves out the UK's new 544,000-km2 Chagos Marine Protected Area in the Indian Ocean, which took effect on 1 November, as well as six high seas MPAs totaling 285,000 km2 announced by OSPAR in September. Designation of large MPAs similar to these has played a major role in doubling global MPA coverage since 2003, when it was just 0.5%.

Now that the 2012 deadline has been extended to 2020, it remains to be seen what effect the extension will have on MPA designation rates. Notably, the CBD goal was not the only international MPA target with a 2012 deadline. At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, national leaders agreed to create representative networks of MPAs worldwide by 2012. And at the 2003 World Parks Congress, IUCN members called for a global system of MPA networks to exist by 2012, including "strictly protected areas" amounting to at least 20-30% of each habitat.