Let’s get the bad news out of the way: our oceans are imperilled. Some estimates indicate that 90% of global fish stocks are either fully exploited – that is, at their maximum catch potential – or overexploited. Illegal fishing accounts for up to US$23.5-billion of the world seafood market every year, or about one in five fishes taken from the ocean. Acidification and warming threaten all coral reefs and are changing the chemical balance of the seas. Some form of human activity occurs on almost every parcel of the ocean, often with destructive consequences.
As a fisherman, scuba diver and kayaker, I have seen the evidence at first hand: fewer fish in the water than in decades past, visible pollution on and beneath the surface and vast areas of dead coral where dazzling reefs once thrived. Not only do these effects hurt biodiversity, they also threaten humans, especially people who live in small island nations that depend on a healthy ocean for food, jobs, tourism, traditions and community cohesion.
Now for the good news: in some parts of the ocean, the establishment of large, fully protected marine reserves is reversing these trends. By creating huge ocean sanctuaries that have complete protection from fishing and other industrial activities, local people and governments are helping entire marine ecosystems to cope with and recover from unexpected environmental changes. In fact, in 2015 more of the ocean was protected through new reserves than during any previous year in history. These efforts were led by communities and governments in the Pacific, including Palau, Easter Island, the Pitcairn Islands and New Zealand’s Kermadec region.
Large, fully protected marine reserves help the ocean and coastal cultures by: