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Sea lions rest on a buoy near an offshore oil drilling platform off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/cc)

North America Failing Dismally on Ocean Protection, Groups Warn

'We need to go much further if we are to restore the health of the ocean'

Nika Knight

North America is falling woefully behind on public promises to protect surrounding oceans from fishing, oil and gas development, and other harmful human activities—and those promises are paltry, found a joint report from Canadian and American conservation groups.

The cooperative venture from the Marine Conservation Institute (MCI) and Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS) discovered that while Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. have promised to protect 10 percent of the continental ocean estate—"defined as the territorial sea plus exclusive economic zone, which together extend 200 nmi from each country's shoreline"—by 2020, currently only .89 percent is protected.

"If you said to yourself, well, we're going to go into a national forest and we're going to sweep the forest once every two, three weeks and shoot everything we can find, you wouldn't expect to see many animals or much wildlife or a normal forest left after very long," said MCI director of policy and legislation Michael Gravitz to the Guardian. "But in essence, that's what we expect to do to the oceans."

"Oceans really can heal themselves if you leave them alone."
—Michael Gravitz, MCI

The report (pdf) found that Canada had done the least to protect its marine life, with only .11 percent of its ocean estate protected, while Mexico had protected the most—although it was still a dismal 1.62 percent. The U.S. has protected 1.29 percent of its oceans, although the report excluded the waters surrounding Hawaii and other Pacific territories.

If no action is taken, "we would expect the sort of diversity of life that lives in some of these places to be thinned out, to become less biodiverse, less stable, and less able to resist the changes that warming and acidification bring," Gravitz told the newspaper.

Titled "Daring to Be Deep," the report marks "the first time conservationists from the three North American countries have come together to examine how well the respective countries are adhering to the 10 percent agreement," the Guardian notes.

The report's authors argue that while "reaching the 10 percent marine protected area coverage target is an important next step, recent scientific evidence indicates that we need to go much further if we are to restore the health of the ocean—at least 30 percent needs to be placed within fully protected areas where industrial uses, including commercial fishing are precluded."

Meanwhile, other nations are taking significant steps toward protecting their oceans: on Monday, it was reported that Malaysia had successfully created a 1 million square hectare marine protected area.

The conservation groups' report on North America goes on to advocate for eventually protecting a full 50 percent of the world from human interference:

In light of the biodiversity crisis on Earth, scientists have highlighted the need to establish interconnected networks of protected areas that leaves at least half of the earth for nature to thrive for generations to come, and in doing so ensuring that our needs are met too.

As Gravitz said, "Oceans really can heal themselves if you leave them alone."

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