CONSERVING NATURAL BEAUTY: MARINE PROTECTED AREAS
Did you know that many of Australia’s most picturesque vacation destinations are actually also marine protected areas? Some of the most famous marine protected areas are Lord Howe Island and the Great Barrier Reef. There are quite a few more marine protected areas in Australia that you might have not heard about, these include Pati Point Reserve, Red Sea Marine Peace Park and Bonaire Marine Park. But what exactly is the purpose of a marine protected area?
A marine protected area (MPA) is an area of the ocean in which a country’s government has placed limits on human activity for the protection and maintenance of biological diversity. Marine protected areas can have different names including marine parks, marine conservation zones, marine reserves, marine sanctuaries, and no-take zones.
The extent to which human activity is limited in an MPA varies between different MPAs. The strictest type of MPA doesn’t allow any human entry at all, this not only prevents people from fishing but also prevents people from disturbing the natural flow of particular ecosystems and their fragile habitats. No-entry MPAs are normally quite small and used for research as they are controlled environments with no outside influence impacting the environment. Another type of MPA is a no-take MPA which doesn’t allow fishing but allows people to travel through the area whether on land or snorkelling. In multiple-use MPAs, the areas are still quite protected but some fishing is still allowed.
Marine protected areas have been established due to the threats that face our oceans including overfishing, litter, water pollution, and global climate change. These threats have caused a decline in the population of many fish and marine mammals, leading even some to extinction.
The aim of MPAs is to assist in maintaining the long-term ecological viability of marine and estuarine systems and to minimise the impact of the threats that face our oceans. It is commonly known that the marine benefit of MPAs is their impact on fisheries. It supports fisheries by restricting people’s ability to fish endangered species in certain marine ecosystems. However, it often goes unrecognised that MPAs benefit marine ecosystems through waste assimilation, coastal protection, flood management, and critical environmental requirements for fished species. Additionally, by limiting human access to certain marine systems we are able to provide researchers with the data they need to understand how certain marine plants and animals function and what adaptations they have undergone to limit the impact of climate change on their population.
Not all MPAs have the same goals but overall the main focus of many is to protect marine habitats and the variety of life they support. The preservation of shipwrecks can also be the focus of MPAs as these areas can be closed off to fishing, diving and ocean exploration in order to maintain the environment that is living around the shipwreck to conserve the shipwrecks and their historical and cultural meaning. By restricting access to certain areas of the ocean and preventing overfishing, MPAs also ensure that certain resources remain sustainable. It can be seen in the US and Canada that after several MPAs were established, fish populations began to increase, and fishing improved.
Whilst more than 5,000 marine protected areas have been established worldwide, there is still a lot more progress that needs to be made to conserve the natural marine ecosystems across the globe. Whilst they vary in restrictions, any type of MPA being established will further the preservation of our oceans and their marine life. Marine protected areas hold the key to ensuring we can preserve our oceans’ beauty and its resources for many years (and hopefully centuries) to come.