5 Jun 2018 - Managed marine protected areas are an effective tool in coastal ocean conservation. They are also ripe to be included in investment structures. The upsides for everyone may help push the protected area of the world’s seas from 2% to 30% by 2030.
In February this year, the Dominican Republic became the first Caribbean country to create a public private partnership (PPP) to sustainably manage almost 5,000 square miles of marine habitat. The whole project is designed to be replicable – and investable.
The co-management agreement (the preferred name of those involved in the PPP) was requested by the country’s minister of environment and initiated by Blue Finance, a UN-backed NGO that is targeting improved management of marine protected areas (MPAs) through investable initiatives.
“Quite simply, MPAs are one of the best tools we have right now for improving the health of the marine ecosystems,” says Nicolas Pascal, founder and director of Blue Finance. “We can’t depend only on governments and grants to pay for marine conservation. We need a new source of financing that will allow for proper management – sustainable financing – and that is our role, to find investment opportunities that will contribute to better marine reserve management.”
If the co-management moves along without a hitch, it could well be the signal that private impact investors – keen to put their money to work in ocean conservation, beyond donations – have been waiting for.
The notion that our oceans and coastal areas should be managed – particularly for the benefit of private investors – is an uncomfortable topic for some. However, the reality is that effective management benefits the seas and therefore the planet. At any rate there are few alternative medium-term solutions.
“While we have seen an increase in the number of marine protected areas, many don’t do what they are designed to do unless they are effectively managed,” says Pascal, “and that needs money.”
Fisheries will be enhanced, tourism will improve because of the scenic beauty and calmer waters, and coastlines will be more resilient to the impact of waves caused by hurricanes. There’s nothing to lose.
- Nicolas Pascal, Blue Finance
MPAs encompass many scenarios, from an area being closed to all human activities such as fishing, boating and extraction, to areas designated as marine managed areas (MMAs), which encompass sustainable fisheries, nature-friendly tourism and conservation areas. The methods may vary, but the goal is clear: to mitigate the negative impact of human activity to protect and support marine life in all its forms.
There are around 5,000 MPAs around the world, with 10 alone accounting for 74% of the total area of MPAs. The number of MPAs has doubled since 2010. In that year, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) announced its target of 10% of oceans becoming MPAs by 2020, which was also adopted by the member states of the United Nations as part of Sustainable Development Goal 14.
That figure was however quickly seen as too low. In 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that the new target should be 30% by 2030. Almost immediately, other conservationists argued that 50% would be a more appropriate target.
In 2018, MPAs cover 7% of the ocean, but the majority of these are ‘paper parks’ – meaning that the rules for the reserve are not being enforced. The Malta Declaration calculates that because many MPAs do not offer full protection, a more realistic estimate would be that only 2% of the global ocean is strongly protected.
“The challenge is that many of the countries that have marine reserves are typically developing economies with a myriad of issues vying for attention,” points out Pascal. “The political will and resources that are needed for management of these reserves can be hard to come by. But if you do not police the area and are not fining a fishing boat or recreational boat that is illegally in the reserve, or if you are not clamping down on pollution, then you will see no real improvement in the biodiversity or water quality. There needs to be a level of management.”