Marine Reserves : Investments for the Future

August 02, 2014 0 Comments

Marine Reserves : Investments for the Future

“If you think of the ocean as a bank account in which everybody withdraws but nobody makes a deposit, then protected marine reserves are like savings accounts that produce interest,” National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala

The reality is far graver – we aren’t just withdrawing, we have re-mortgaged the house, taken out loans, spent the overdraft and maxed the credit cards. The only reason the loan sharks aren’t circling is that we have caught most of them!

So the question, is the creation of a few long term fixed deposits AKA Marine reserves a big enough hedge?

Before that, let’s look at the mechanics of a marine reserve.  The purpose of a marine reserve is to facilitate the preservation of marine bio-diversity through the creation of protective oasis’s for sea life. These are not always 100% no-catch but normally prohibit the industrial scale fishing that has had such an impact on the marine bio mass. From these sanctuaries, population regeneration and then overflow is expected to replenish/sustain other non-protected areas.

Natural limitations to the effectiveness are geography and enforcement.

Given fish by nature can swim where ever they want, it a difficult proposition to provide havens for pelagic and other migratory sea life that transit in and out of a zone throughout their life cycle. This applies not only to fish but the industrial by catch of turtles, whales, dolphins and birds too.

It also matters little if you have a reserve and nobody recognizes and respects it as such. With declining catch and stocks these areas will always be looked at for unscrupulous short term gain and unpoliced, will be plundered.

So it’s been great news to see recent announcements from the US and smaller nations on the creation and extension of Marine Reserves in the Pacific. The size of these reserves are formidable and include swathes of some of the most bio diverse and pristine areas on the planet.

  • President Obama’s announcement of his intent to create a new marine National Monument in the U.S.’s remote Pacific Islands (the Washington Post explains what and why) and address illegal fishing,
  • President Tong of Kiribati’s announcement of implementation of a massive, California-sized no-take marine reserve that would close most of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to commercial fishing,
  • President Remengesau of Palau’s declaration that his government would establish a marine protected area (MPA) covering Palau’s entire EEZ, with a small area set aside for traditional fishing.
  • The U.S. Navy’s announcement of a collaboration with government of Palau on surveillance of Palau’s remote protected areas,
  • The Cook Island’s intent to designate the waters around its Southern Group out to 50 miles from shore as a marine reserve, and to expand park planning to their Northern Group,

Firstly, I applaud any world leader and government that takes more than the short term view of the environment and its management. The fact that the US is one of these is countries is even better. As it means effective enforcement and as a world leader sets a good example to others. Its also for these very reasons that US assistance has been requested by countries with reserves who are eco-rich but economy poor. These countries are banking on eco-tourism as the alternative industry to drive their economies and will need tourist dollars or subsidies to sustain them.

So its definitely a step in the right direction but is it enough?

Until we solve the too many hooks and not enough fish problem, then the answer is probably not. However, you have to start somewhere and foresight like these “savings accounts” are an investment in all of our futures and perhaps the very thing that saves us from bankruptcy. Lets hope we see more “saving” in this manner – we will all be richer for it.



Russel P

Has spent over 30 years of his middle aged life trying to spend more time in the ocean. Likes to surf, bodysurf, free dive and pretend he enjoys chasing big waves.


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