Start of the UN Ocean Science Decade

Need for improved governance of marine protected areas

Lehmann, Ina
The Current Column (2021)

German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE), The Current Column of 7 June 2021

Marine and coastal ecosystems are a vital source of food for humans and can provide important protection against threats such as floods and storms – not least in a context of global climate change. And yet, marine biodiversity is under enormous pressure, threatening the continued provisions of its contributions to people’s livelihoods. Estimates by the International Union for Conservation of Nature suggest, for instance, that 36% of assessed species of sharks and rays and 33% of assessed species of reef corals face extinction. In order to strengthen the knowledge base for ocean protection, the United Nations launched the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development on June 1. This knowledge should inter alia inform existing international frameworks for protecting the ocean. Among them is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is the most comprehensive agreement for the conservation of global biodiversity. Its parties are expect to adopt a ten-year Global Biodiversity Framework this October. It provides a boost to the expansion of marine protected areas as a key approach to marine biodiversity protections. In the light of persistent challenges to the effectiveness and justice of marine protected areas, there is an urgent need to gain an improved understanding of the guiding principles for the better governance of marine protected areas.

Protected areas are a traditional cornerstone of conservation policies under the CBD. Marine protected areas in particular have grown over the past 20 years. The CBD’s most recent 2011-2020 strategic framework foresaw that ‘at least (…) 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas’ be conserved by 2020 through protected areas or other effective area-based conservation mechanisms (OECMs). The latter are measures that are not legally declared as protected areas and may not have conservation as their declared primary objective, but still fulfil related functions. According to the 5th Global Biodiversity Outlook, about 7.5 % of marine areas were covered by protected areas in August 2020. These numbers are presumably higher when taking OECMs into account. A major expansion of marine protected areas has only come in the past two decades, with an almost tenfold increase in the area covered by them between 2000 and 2020. The zero draft of the prospective new Global Biodiversity Framework foresees an expansion to 30 % of marine areas being conserved via protected areas or OECMs.

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