Countries must step up efforts to meet the Aichi target of covering 10% of the oceans with a coherent and well managed network of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. It is estimated that 3% of the world’s oceans are now designated as MPAs.

Countries must step up efforts to meet the Aichi target of covering 10% of the oceans with a coherent and well managed network of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. It is estimated that 3% of the world’s oceans are now designated as MPAs.

At the current rate of expansion of the global MPA network, a full century would be needed to reach the Aichi target.

This was the sobering conclusion of the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC3) which was held in Marseille 20-25 October 2013. 1500 scientists, policy makers and stakeholders from 87 countries gathered to discuss issues related to marine protected areas and the conservation and management of the oceans.

Slow progress towards the 10% ‘Aichi target’ – agreed in the 2011 Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity - raises many concerns. The current estimate of 3% is not uncontested, as it incorporates everything countries have declared as MPA, including areas that do not yet have management plans or areas with fisheries restrictions only, for instance.

The 10 largest MPAs in the world, most of which are in remote areas in the Pacific Ocean, take up a large part of this 3%. For several countries, such large- scale MPAs are the low-hanging fruit, i.e. a cost-efficient way to reach their target in a one-off designation procedure. However, little is known of the actual status of these super MPAs, and effective control systems are lacking given their remoteness.

On a bright note, the EU seems more advanced than other regions/countries in reaching its Aichi target. The European Environment Agency presented a recent update of its MPA data: although it is not totally clear at this stage if the areas are all “well-managed”, the combined Natura 2000 and other MPA networks now cover 5.9% of overall European marine areas.

During the conference, speakers also highlighted the importance of establishing MPAs in the high seas - which constitute 64% of the oceans - and in the deep sea. Both are areas with great unknowns, where shipping, fisheries and other industries risk to develop in a poorly-controlled manner.

Several precautionary warnings were issued in particular about seabed mining as an emerging industry - with Greenpeace calling for a moratorium until adequate protection measures are put in place for the deep sea.

In a session on Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP), the Commission’s proposed Directive for MSP-Integrated Coastal Management was discussed and found to be a useful tool to support the further development of a network of MPAs.

SAR’s representative Ann Dom emphasized that MSP can indeed be a powerful tool, but only if framed by the Good Environmental Status targets of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and if complemented by other tools, such as market-based instruments and awareness raising.

In a ministerial meeting held immediately after the conference in Ajaccio, Corsica, 19 ministers reaffirmed their determination to reach the Aichi target. The Ajaccio Ministerial message underscores the urgency of conserving and managing the high seas sustainably.

It calls for the international community to adopt before the end of 2014 the decision of the General Assembly of the United Nations allowing for the launch of negotiations on an implementing agreement of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea for the conservation and sustainable management of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdictions.

Conference page
Media release from the Ajaccio Ministerial Conference