The just-announced network of marine protected areas in Gabon adds to this worldwide collection of water-based sanctuaries. In addition to the dedication of President Ali Bongo Ondimba, the project has involved the efforts of the Waitt Foundation, National Geographic Pristine Seas, Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Gabon Program and the Gabonese National Parks Agency. The Tiffany & Co. Foundation provided a $1 million grant towards the WCS Marine Protected Area (MPA) Fund, which has a mission of establishing and strengthening MPAs around the world.
Cristián Samper, president and CEO of the WCS, said creating marine protected areas will help advance the health of the world’s oceans.
“Gabon is showing great leadership with this massive expansion of efforts to protect its surrounding waters,” he said. “MPAs are an important conservation tool protecting habitat, improving fisheries, supporting livelihoods, and securing the long-term health of marine biodiversity and the oceans.”
Roberts, whose team was not involved in the Gabon work, is hopeful that the ambitious marine conservation plan for this African country will be properly enforced.
“Africa is an area that has taken the brunt of much of the planet’s hunger for seafood,” he said. “(The new marine protected areas network) is an interesting approach, and you want to believe that by implementing a network of protected areas, that Gabon will be able to enforce it effectively and the ecosystems will be able to recover. To make these areas properly effective, they will need high levels of protection from fishing and other sources of damage, as well as effective management, monitoring, and enforcement.”
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Roberts and his colleagues believe that protecting more of the world’s oceans will improve the outlook for the environmental recovery after greenhouse gas emissions have been brought under control. This strengthens the case that the UN ocean protection target can be raised from 10 to 30 per cent coverage by MPAs. This will require many more large-scale MPAs, however, on par with that of the one recently announced for Gabon, as well as protected areas that go beyond national jurisdictions.
The goals cross partisan politics, too.
As Rand said, working to establish marine reserves is a non-partisan effort that can take place no matter a country’s leadership.
“The way to designate more reserves remains the same,” he said. “Engage with the stakeholders — local people, scientists, fishermen, business leaders, government decision makers — to evaluate what the benefits are to having a marine reserve, and then build support and make that case to whomever the chief decision maker is.”
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