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Why 30% of the Ocean Should Be Protected, According to New Study (Entire Interview)

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Published on Mar 21, 2016

A new study from top environmental scientists recommends safeguarding at least 30 percent of our ocean from exploitation and harm.

How and why did researchers arrive at that goal for marine conservation? Pew marine fellow Callum Roberts explains the science behind the study.

To learn more, visit http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-....

*TRANSCRIPT*
Why do we need to protect the ocean?

If we get it right, life will be safeguarded well into the future, species won't go extinct, and fisheries will continue to thrive. If we get it wrong, we're going to see an increasing amount of dysfunction in the sea, collapses of populations there, harmful algal blooms, beaches becoming too contaminated for us to use. All of these things are possibilities.

If we get it wrong, then we will lose things that have been taken for granted since time immemorial. The oceans have done things for us that we don't even know existed. They've kept us healthy. They've kept the water clean. They've processed our wastes. And we didn't notice it was going on. That's because it was happening. If it stopped happening, we'd very quickly notice.

What is the minimum percentage of the ocean that should be protected?

The Convention on Biological Diversity has set a target to protect 10% of the oceans in marine protected areas by 2020. That target has been picked up as a UN sustainable development goal, so we really do feel that we need to be protecting a tenth of the seas by 2020. But is it enough? There's been a great deal of interest and controversy over how much of the sea we really need to protect in order to safeguard life there and maximize other benefits to humanity like producing productive fisheries, for example, avoiding some of the problems of adverse evolution that happens to fish stocks when they're exploited intensively, avoiding problems of a collapse in ocean processes as well.

What our study clearly shows is that protecting a few percent of the seas is just not enough. It also very strongly shows that protecting 10%, the current international target, is not enough either…The optimum level of protection is above 30%. So I would say that we need to be protecting something like a third of the seas from exploitation and harm.

What is the science behind the study?

Very few of the studies that we looked at set out trying to answer the question of how much of the sea that we should protect. Instead, they looked at little pieces of the problem…how much of this area should we protect in order to safeguard life here? And so what we've done is to extrapolate from their results, to blend the results for a whole variety of different approaches that people have taken, and to come up with a big-picture figure. It is possible to scale up from one place to another. You can go from small to larger to larger as long as the figures scale appropriately across that range, and I think that they do.

If we do protect 30% to 40% of the sea, who benefits?

One of the things you might think in this kind of study is that the answer for fishing would be very different for the answer for nature conservation…One of the really interesting findings from the study is that the amount that we should protect to benefit fisheries, forgetting all about nature conservation, is the same. It's up there in the range of 30% to 40%. So safeguarding fisheries and safeguarding nature are not incompatible at all. We can achieve them both by creating the same networks of marine protected areas.

When people hear a figure of 30% to 40% of the oceans being protected, it seems to them just far too much. And then they'll say, well, it's impossible to do that, or, you're crazy. But maybe we were all crazy thinking that we could get by without protecting that much of the sea.

If you think about it, for the great majority of the history of Planet Earth, ocean life has thrived without any human exploitation. Now we're chasing them down with industrial fishing boats, and is it a surprise that they can't cope? In fact, really, we'd be crazy to think that we could get by and safeguard life in the sea and the fisheries and the livelihoods that depend on it with anything less than 30% to 40% protected.

Is this a number everyone can agree on?

Numerical targets are controversial, and they've been criticized by people who say that we're placing quantity before quality. We need quantity and quality, though. And I think what percentage targets have done is to really motivate and energize action to establish protected areas in the sea at a rate and scale that we've never done before.

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