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Marine Protected Areas - where conservation meets recreation

by K. Shugart-Schmidt, Sailors for the Sea on 13 Oct 2013
Sailors for the Sea - healthy waters are getting scarcer SW
Most recreational boaters enjoy the challenge of cruising in the open ocean, using their considerable skills and wonderful boats to surmount all the problems that ocean and weather can throw at them.

When near shore or in port, we all want to be in a beautiful place with ample underwater resources to be explored. Swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling, and fishing are activities that everyone enjoys when at anchor. But enjoying these aquatic pursuits is increasingly at risk because the oceans are changing, and not for the better.


In a recent report, respected marine scientists with the International Programme on the State of the Ocean tell us that our oceans and underwater environments are threatened by three accelerating global trends: ocean warming, ocean acidification, and nutrient overload, creating low oxygen dead zones. Imagine a world in thirty or forty years where the surface of the ocean may be a sparkling blue or green but when we part the waves we see jellyfish and seaweed. The vibrantly colored fish and stunning coral reefs are gone, big fish are gone and marine mammals are scarce. That world is where we are headed in many places unless we can get a handle on climate change, reduce nutrient runoff and overfishing, AND create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that increase the overall health of specific areas of the ocean.

A great comparison, as we head into flu season, is that if you are going to be around germs it is much better to be healthy, exercised, and eating well rather than overstressed and exhausted. The same is true for the ocean. Creating Marine protected areas now will allow specific areas of the ocean to be healthier as they face rising temperatures and changes in pH levels.

However, Marine Protected Areas can do more than just protect the marine environment and wildlife in the future - the existing ones provide incredible benefits for recreational sailors TODAY!

One favorite in the Caribbean, the Dry Tortugas National Park, about 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, is where almost 50,000 acres of land and ocean are protected to varying degrees from the impact of humans.

Under this protected status, populations of marine life and biological diversity have begun to recover in the Park and associated Ecological Research Area.

Activities for visitors include snorkeling, picnicking, bird watching, camping, scuba diving, saltwater fishing and kayaking. As the years roll by, the underwater treasures to be seen in the park will only increase in richness.

Another wonderful, well-protected MPA is off the island of Culebra, at the eastern end of Puerto Rico. The local fishermen’s association urged the creation of a no take reserve to protect the sensitive coral reef and sea grass that serve as a nursery for juvenile fish and as a refuge for larger ones.

Creating this MPA has preserved the biodiversity of the area and restored populations of larger fish and corals that are wonderful for snorkelers and divers. Other benefits for local inhabitants and visitors have flowed from the establishment of this MPA.

In small island communities, employment and financial stability can be hard to come by, and the increased fish populations have resulted in a more sustainable, profitable fishery for locals. (http://www.coralations.org/MPA). The no take reserve draws visitors, preserves a sensitive environment, and over time has increased the value of fisheries in surrounding areas.

These are two examples of the thousands of MPAs created around the world that recreational sailors can visit and enjoy, but they demonstrate how powerful MPAs can potentially be.

Unfortunately, some MPAs are 'paper parks' or parks-in-name only, where protective regulations and enforcement are minimal and many damaging activities continue. Varying regulations make a big difference in how beneficial a MPA is to the ocean.

MPAs that are well managed and enforced are recovering from previous abuse at faster rates. By choosing to visit fully protected MPAs the boating community can spread the message that they support stronger regulations.

To find where MPAs around the world are located, visit MPAtlas.org, which has maps, data, and protected status of almost all MPAs in existence. Much like the National Parks, MPAs offer a way to take a section of our ocean and save its beauty for future generations.

Take Action

You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

1. Read further on the how MPAs heal oceans, especially coral reefs, in an http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0009278!open_source_scientific_journal. Can't take an actual trip? Visit some of the ocean’s prettiest places underwater right now with the http://catlinseaviewsurvey.com/surveys/caribbean/st-vincent-and-the-grenadines!Catlin_Seaview_Survey.

2. Sign a http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/oceans/marine-reserves/roadmap-to-recovery/!pledge showing your support of increasing MPAs worldwide.

3. Explore existing MPAs and plan your next trip by with www.MPAtlas.org.

About Sailors for the Sea:
Sailors for the Sea, which 'educates and engages the boating community in the worldwide protection of the oceans,' was the outcome of David Rockefeller Jnr's work on the Pew Oceans Commission, which identified profound and alarming ocean health issues.

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