Only four per cent of world's oceans are protected

It is common knowledge that two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered in water. Yet with the seemingly never ending headlines about pollution, overfishing and the destruction of barrier reefs in the news, how much do you really know about the oceans?

In a recent study performed by the UBC Institute for Oceans and Fisheries, it was found that only four per cent of the world’s oceans are protected. 

In 2010, representatives from nearly 200 countries adopted the United Nations’ Aichi Targets, vowing to protect 10 per cent of the ocean by 2020. Half of that time has passed and progress has been slow. Daniel Pauly, a professor at the Institute of Oceans and Fisheries and co-author of the research, attributes this delayed movement to the counterintuitive quality of the public’s perspective on fishing as a benign activity that has no negative impact on the ocean and its wildlife.

While fishing has always been prevalent in human history and civilisation, traditional fishing has never been an issue as it does not have as strong an impact as the commercialized fishing of today. 

“At that point, people didn't realize that the environment could not stand this pressure. The idea of setting up underwater parks is alien because people don't realize that fishing does the same thing to the earth that the bulldozer does to a forest,” said Pauly.

Contrary to popular belief, the creation of more marine protected areas (MPAs) would allow fishermen to catch more fish. The promoted growth of the marine life would result in a larger and healthier population of fish that would eventually "spill over" into fishing approved areas.

“Gradually, [as] people began to realise it and [as] environmental movements pick up steam, more and more marine protected areas were created,” said Pauly.

The yearly five per cent growth in MPAs doubles about every 15 years. But as it started out at a small percentage, the figures are in fact much lower than they sound. The number of marine reserves has risen significantly in the past years as the trend of transforming groups of uninhabited islands into protected areas go up. These economically exclusive zones undergo an easier process to become MPAs as governments are less likely to face economic and political pressure from fishing industries.

Pauly believes that a citizen by themselves cannot make much of a difference — people should join together with others in their community to form organizations that push for the formation of more MPAs. He predicts extensive changes in the process of marine reserve formation in Canada who has been a laggard in comparison to other countries.

“Canada, we boast of having the Arctic, the Pacific and the Atlantic — but we have to ask ourselves where are the big marine reserves that we have created,”.