The U.S. and Canada have announced a new partnership dedicated to the protection of one of the world’s most threatened marine areas under climate change: the Arctic. We not only are reaffirming our national goals of protecting at least 17% of land areas and 10% of marine areas by 2020, but will also work directly with indigenous partners, state, territorial, and provincial governments to set a new goal grounded on the best available science.
Designating parts of the Arctic as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is a big step forward in global conservation. The Arctic is an important habitat to diverse aquatic animals that serve important economic and ecological roles, including many organisms in seafood markets both globally and for indigenous communities. This ecosystem, however, is not only at risk from more local threats such as overharvesting and pollution, but also from global challenges like climate change. With areas listed as Marine Protected Areas, the Arctic would enjoy an unprecedented level of security against the increasing pressures it has faced, and the global consequences can be tremendous and long-lasting.
The Nature Conservancy has strongly valued MPAs as a tool for advancing marine conservation while balancing economic progress. But to work effectively, MPAs must be integrated into broader management regimes that aim for 100% sustainable ocean use. Local management strategies should include ongoing dialogue with local communities and indigenous people and be specific about how the local monitoring and evaluation goals complement and support the larger goal for fully sustainable global ocean use.
This new partnership is an exciting moment for ocean conservation, but what happens in the months and years ahead will determine whether the Arctic will become an example of a “paper park” or a successful model of how marine protection can balance the needs of economies, communities, and ecosystems.