Giant Marine Reserves
Fishing vessels now scour almost every inch of the ocean. Factory ships with new age technology can remove in a month what 7000 small fishing boats could do in a year.
In 2003 it was estimated that over half of all fish stocks were exploited close to the maximum sustainable limits, while a further quarter were overexploited, depleted or recovering from depletion. The number of global catches has risen from 79 million tonnes in 1998 to 87 million in 2000, as human consumption grows faster than fish stocks many species are now faced with extinction.
Giant Marine Reserves
There has been a recent proposal to establish a network of giant marine reserves in order to bring depleted fish stocks back to sustainable levels. Giant reserves work in the same way as national parks in protecting species by prohibiting any human activity.
However, currently only 0.1% of the sea is afforded by protection, as it is difficult to control illegal fishing activities at high seas. As fish are being caught faster than they can reproduce many species are facing extinction, a network of marine reserves can establish a ‘breathing space’ for fish to recover.
Apo Island is the oldest marine reserve in the Philippines. Before it was established the fishing industry was damaging the coral reef and the catch of fish was going down. The reserve acts as a safe haven for the fish.
The fish have now doubled in size and the numbers of eggs produced have increased. Eggs and larvae drift out of the reserves and restock neighbouring fishing grounds. Now with the reserve in place, the productivity has increased as twice as many fish are being caught. In addition, the reserve allows environmental and ecosystem regeneration.
Research suggests that we should protect 20-50% of the sea. To be viable, fish populations must be large enough to be self-sustaining or they must interconnect with others. The UN Millennium Project calls for 10% of ocean to be protected in the short term and 30% in the long term. The 2004 convention on biological diversity committed to the establishment of a global network of marine protected areas by 2012.
Furthermore, in 2006 the American government authorized the worlds largest marine reserve northwest of Hawaii, which protects over 7000 species. However, it is imperative that effective protection is afforded for the future success of the giant marine reserves and the long-term recovery of fish populations.
Robberg Nature and Marine Reserve, South Africa.
Photo courtesy of Brian Exfordy