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New compact boosts marine protected areas

Five nations announced a new alliance to promote more conservation of marine ecosystems in the fight against climate change.

Reef fish at French Frigrate Shoals in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument
Reef fish at French Frigrate Shoals in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (AN/NOAA)

Five nations announced a new alliance of government agencies and international organizations on Wednesday to promote more conservation of marine ecosystems in the fight against climate change.

The new alliance among Chile, Costa Rica, France, the United Kingdom and the United States focuses on spreading the use of Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs. These are managed to conserve economic resources, biodiversity and species by creating zones with permitted and non-permitted uses.

“The climate crisis is having profound impacts on marine ecosystems. At the same time, the ocean is a source of sustainable climate solutions,” said John Kerry, the U.S. special presidential envoy for climate and former secretary of state, longtime U.S. senator and Democratic presidential nominee.

“These include marine protected areas, which can help build climate resilience and store carbon, while conserving biodiversity," he said. "This is a decisive decade to dramatically scale up ocean and climate action — which are two sides of the same coin.”

The alliance, which has launched a new website, includes Chile's Ministry of Environment; Costa Rica's Ministry of Environment and Energy; the French Biodiversity Agency; the U.K. Joint Nature Conservation Committee; and the U.S. Office of National Marine Sanctuaries within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA.

The Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is providing scientific support, said established surveillance and monitoring for compliance are key to managing these natural areas. The Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland is supports the project.

A 'nature-based solution'

The use of such protected areas for marine life and the means of enforcing such protections has evolved. Particularly important to their success are the rules and regulations that accompany them, and the resources provided to ensure they are closely followed. Oceans also serve an important climate role by absorbing as much as a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases each year that are pumped into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning and other human activities.

Though that helps slow global warming, carbon dissolving in oceans also forms carbonic acid, which raises waters’ acidity and damages hard-shelled creatures. That sets off a chain reaction of events that threaten the food chain supporting marine life, such as cold water corals, a key haven and feeding ground for fish.

“All nations rely on healthy marine ecosystems to support life on this planet,” said Jane Lubchenco, a renowned marine ecologist and former NOAA administrator who is now U.S. Deputy Director for Climate and Environment at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Marine protected areas — but especially highly protected ones — are an effective nature-based solution for adapting to and mitigating climate change and conserving biodiversity," she said. "Nations must act now to protect key ocean habitats and the services the ocean provides to nature and people.”

NOAA's acting administror, Ben Friedman, said the MPAs need global collaboration to succeed and address scientific knowledge gaps. "Together," he said, "we will develop a deeper understanding of how Marine Protected Areas may combat climate change while supporting sustainable economic development.”