Pitcairn MPA proposal: a political salve?

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By Peter JS Jones, Dept of Geography, University College London, p.j.jones [at] ucl.ac.uk

In relation to a recent article in The Economist: Marine protected areas, Pitcairn’s bounty - The South Pacific is about to get the world’s biggest national park

These large remote MPAs are almost impossible to enforce, the same being the case for the Chagos MPA, where there is one patrol boat that spends most of its time collecting anchoring fees from the many visiting yachts. So not only are such large remote MPAs a distraction from designating smaller MPAs in more heavily used seas that actually need protection and restoration, they are also essentially paper parks!.... but they do enable BINGOs to fly the green flag of achievement and make progress towards achieving the questionable target for 10% MPA coverage across the world's oceans.

They are also arguably a political salve for governments to say they are protecting the marine environment through MPA designations in their overseas territories, whilst making faltering progress with protecting areas on their own continental shelf, e.g. the UK.

There needs to be a balance between designating small MPAs in 'metropolitan' seas that are under pressure and large MPAs in remote and pristine areas in order to safeguard them against emerging pressures, but the relative political ease and campaign benefits of the latter approach is leading to an unbalanced approach at present.


This blog makes a number of assertions that are quite simply wrong. Large MPAs are not "almost impossible to enforce". They can be enforced (using satellite data, boats and other means), but governments routinely fail to do this, just as they fail to enforce small MPAs and indeed marine exploitation, ie fisheries. Actually large scale remote MPAs are in principle rather easier to enforce than less remote multi-use areas, simply because there are less boats there and it is easier to see what they are doing. The Chagos is enforced, though certainly not as well as most people would like, but it is much better enforced than most of the seas in the Indian Ocean and a significant portion of the UK's total marine territory. The boat does not spend "most of its time collecting anchoring fees". There is no evidence that large scale marine MPAs are paper parks, nor that they detract from efforts to protect smaller heavily used areas. Large areas are enforced at least as well as most smaller areas, though neither is enforced anything like as well as is desirable. But then many fisheries are also unenforced or inadequately enforced. Marine conservationists want both smaller and larger protected ones and areas that are fully protected and adequately enforced. That is what we should be working towards. Both have their place in the same way as happens in the terrestrial environment. I suggest that whatever happens in Pitcairn or Chagos is reducing pressure on Ministers to act around the coasts of the UK, seems again without any foundation. Whilst it is clear that the UK is sadly making inadequate progress towards protecting the seas around the British Isles, I have never seem any evidence that Ministers see any trade off by acting in the UKOTs. Sorry to say it, but this is a very silly blog based on unsupported allegations posing as facts.

I agree that the remote sensing technology exists that can enforce such large MPAs, but is it currently applied in the Chagos MPA and will it be applied in the Pitcairn MPA? Can one (or even two) patrol boat(s) enforce the Chagos MPA's 247,000 square miles (never mind the proposed Pitcairn MPA's 320,000 square miles)? Whether or not vast remote MPAs can be enforced, they are not actually enforced well, and this is leading to the false impression that the ocean is more protected than it actually is. Has Alastair not seen the figures publicised by the Marine Reserves Coalition that quote the proportion of many country's marine territory that is designated as MPA, lumping overseas and national continental shelf together? Does he really think that the UK government is being even handed in it's approach to designating MPAs in its overseas territories and it's national Continental Shelf and that there is no political capital being made by the UK government in the enthusiasm for MPAs in the UK's overseas territories? If the UK government is so convinced of the benefits of no-take MPAs, why has it abandoned no-take reference areas in the ongoing debacle that is the marine conservation zones initiative around England whilst enthusiastically pursuing vast no-take areas in its overseas territories? CBD COP10 set the target for "effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas" that cover 10% of the world's coastal and marine areas. If we end up with 10% MPA coverage that is largely achieved through a few vast and remote MPAs in overseas territories, will this really achieve the target that the CBD has established? Is the Pew Environment Group's focus on vast remote MPAs consistent with the CBD target? Let's engage in debate and address such questions, rather than dismissing arguments as mere assertions, based on little more than counter-assertions. Let's also avoid resorting to personal 'silly' comments, Alastair.

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