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With marine biodiversity deteriorating at an alarming rate, there will soon be little left of the “octopus’s garden” that The Beatles once sang about. According to Marine Protected Areas: Economics, Management and Effective Policy Mixes, pollution, overfishing and rising temperatures have damaged or destroyed 60% of the earth’s marine ecosystems. Policymakers have been addressing the issue, too, and are increasingly designating marine protected areas (MPAs) as an instrument for the preservation of biodiversity. 

Today, 4.1% of the total marine environment is protected by legislation and other effective means in the form of MPAs. One example is the Iroise Marine National Park in Brittany, France. It was created to foster controlled tourism and a sustainable fishery, among others. Another prominent MPA is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Queensland, Australia. Despite its protected status, coral cover and seagrass meadows are both shrinking due to agricultural activities, ocean acidification and climate change. A major challenge of these protected areas is the enforcement of rules and regulations, but technology can provide solutions. The Global Fishing Watch initiative launched in 2016 by the non-profit organisation, Oceana, in co-operation with Google, efficiently and cost-effectively monitors large commercial fishing vessels using advanced software and data processing.

Although MPAs currently cover less than 5% of the total marine environment, their share is set to grow to 10% by 2020, as agreed by countries adhering both to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Sustainable Development Goals. This will not only help conserve maritime biodiversity, but also contribute to the economy with an estimated US$622-923 billion over the period 2015-2050. There may be hope for the “octopus’s garden” after all.

OECD (2017), Marine Protected Areas: Economics, Management and Effective Policy Mixes, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264276208-en

©OECD Observer No 310 Q2 2017