Ocean Kill-Free Zones: 6 of the Biggest Marine Reserves
Only one percent of the world’s oceans are protected by marine zones, begging the question: why aren’t there more?
Just Jump Right In
The most encouraging news emanating from the ocean these days is the growth in marine protected areas (MPAs).
While there’s plenty of dire news out there about how the ocean is suffering from warming seas, plastic pollution, acidification and more, the fact that more and more governments are sitting up and saying, “We have to protect pieces of the ocean now!” is promising. Parts are completely off limits to fishing; most ban exploration for minerals (i.e. oil and gas).
Today there are more than 6,000 MPAs, which sounds like a lot. Yet in total they cover just a little over one percent of the planet’s oceans. By comparison, roughly 11 percent of land is protected by some kind of reserve or park or national heritage status.
Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area in Kiribati bills itself as the largest marine protected area in the Pacific Ocean (159,000 square miles) and the largest marine conservation effort of its kind by a Least Developed Country (LDC)! Located near the equator in the Central Pacific between Hawaii and Fiji, the Phoenix Islands form an archipelago several hundred miles long. According to UNESCO, it is the largest and deepest World Heritage site on Earth, encompassing eight atoll and low reef islands. The area contains approximately 800 known species of fauna, including about 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals and 44 bird species. Given its remoteness, PIPA provides an incredible “research lab” for marine biologists observing migratory patterns and the entirety of “marine dynamics.”
Ponta Do Ouro, South Africa / Mozambique
Located on the border between South Africa and Mozambique, Ponta do Ouro is a trans-frontier MPA spanning 50 miles of Mozambique coastline and 130 miles of South African territory. Running three miles out to sea, the park protects a vital fishery and sensitive breeding grounds for loggerhead turtles, which have previously been endangered by human encroachment.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia
Chagos Islands, United Kingdom
Created in 2010 by the British government, Chagos Islands in United Kingdom contains 55 islands which are off-limits to industrial fishing and other extractive industries. It is the biggest MPA in the Indian Ocean. Home to half of the planet’s remaining healthy coral reefs, as well as several endangered sea turtles and 175,000 pairs of breeding seabirds, the preserve covers 210,000 square miles—an area larger than California and France.
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, Hawaii
The U.S.’s contribution to the planet’s biggest MPA’s, Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii, surrounds a group of remote, northwestern islands, covering 140,000 square miles. The area is home to more than 7,000 species of birds, fish and marine mammals—a quarter of them unique to Hawaii. The MPA—100 times bigger than Yosemite—was established by the G.W. Bush administration and was the U.S.’s 75th national monument. It has been called “America’s Galapagos” and the most intact tropical marine region in the country.
Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize
In early July, Hol Chan Marine Reserve in Belize, the first-of-its-kind protected area, celebrated its 25th birthday! While the Belizean reserve is exceedingly popular among visitors, perhaps its most significant contribution has been encouraging other Central American countries to create a “string” of MPAs along the barrier reef that runs south. The reserve was formed primarily as a community-based initiative due to concern over the high level of uncontrolled, often destructive fishing and diving activities in the area. Reserve status was also called for by international organizations such as the New York Zoological Society (NYZS) and Peace Corps, due to the unique formation of the channel, the abundant fishery resources (including conch and lobster), and the feasibility of including an interlinked system of coral reef, sea grass and mangrove habitats in this area. Due to its protected status, what was once a depleted fishing area has now been allowed to regenerate, providing an unparalleled diving/snorkeling experience for visitors and an important refuge for marine life along the northern section of the Belize Barrier Reef.