The past two months have seen significant changes in global MPA maps. In addition to the 544,000-km2 Chagos Marine Protected Area taking effect on 1 November, substantial new MPAs have been designated in the North Atlantic, South America, and Western Australia that redraw marine protection in these areas.
North Atlantic: First network of high seas MPAs
In September the intergovernmental OSPAR Commission designated a network of six MPAs to protect unique and ecologically sensitive areas in the North-East Atlantic, beyond the jurisdiction of coastal states. Totaling 285,000 km2, the new MPAs comprise waters around seamounts and sections of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and host a range of vulnerable deep-sea habitats and species. OSPAR delegates said the six MPAs, which will take effect by April 2011, represent the first network of MPAs on the high seas.
Regulations for the new MPAs have not been set yet; they could include a fishing ban. An OSPAR press release on the new MPAs is at http://bit.ly/OSPAR_MPAs. The OSPAR Commission represents 15 governments and is responsible for protecting the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic.
Four of the new sites were designated in cooperation with Portugal, and consist of the waters directly above seabed MPAs that Portugal designated last March (MPA News 11:6). The four MPAs are on Portugal’s extended continental shelf, more than 200 nm off the coast of the Azores. Under permission from the United Nations, Portugal has jurisdiction over the seafloor at these sites, whereas OSPAR manages the resources of the corresponding water column, which is still considered the high seas.
Chile: Hundred-fold increase in nation’s MPA coverage
In October, the Chilean government designated a 150,000-km2 no-take marine reserve around Sala y Gómez Island in the Pacific Ocean. The new Sala y Gómez Marine Park expands Chile’s total marine protected area by more than 100 times, from the previous 0.03% to 4.41% of the nation’s waters.
Located 3200 km west of the Chilean mainland, Sala y Gómez Island is tiny and uninhabited, consisting of two rocks measuring just 15 hectares (0.15 km2) in area. The island is part of a chain of seamounts, several of which are included in the new MPA. Conservation organizations Oceana and National Geographic conducted a scientific expedition to the island last March and found abundant populations of vulnerable species such as sharks and lobsters in the surrounding waters, as well as high biodiversity in deeper waters. They advocated protection of the entire EEZ around the island, which would have comprised nearly 412,000 km2. A National Geographic press release on the new MPA is at http://bit.ly/Chile_MPA.
(On the other side of South America, the Argentine government also announced new protection for its waters in October, designating three MPAs totaling 4000 km2. The three new marine parks – in Patagonia, Makenke, and Penguin Island – bring the nation’s total MPA coverage to 1.18% of its waters, according to officials.)
Western Australia: Tripling MPA coverage in state waters
Also in October, the state government of Western Australia announced the designation of a network of interconnected terrestrial and marine protected areas. The marine portion of the network includes four new MPAs spread across 26,000 km2. This nearly triples the area of marine parks and reserves in Western Australia.
Two of the new MPAs – Camden Sound and North Kimberly Marine Parks – will be managed jointly as the Great Kimberly Marine Park, and together comprise 17% of Western Australian state waters. The MPAs will include a mix of recreational fishing zones and sanctuary (no-take) zones. Management planning processes are underway. A government press release on the new MPAs is at www.dec.wa.gov.au/content/view/6171/2183.