IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) defines a protected area as “a clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural value”.
Since the ocean is a physicochemical and biological carbon pump, MPAs not only maintain vital ecosystems, they contribute to reducing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Maintaining these services can only be achieved by increasing the number of MPAs and their integration into broader climate action frameworks. By further studying the impacts of climate change on a global network of Marine Protected Areas, we will be able to better understand the adaptation and mitigation benefits, hence enabling us to use them as a tool to combat climate change.
According to the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goal 14: 10% of the ocean should be included into MPAs by 2020. With currently over 10,000 Marine Protected Areas worldwide, only 4% of the global ocean is effectively protected, and only 1.5% is covered by strict and permanent MPAs.
As the Global Ocean Forum 2016-2021 roadmap notes, MPAs can increase ocean ecosystem’s resilience to climate change. Networks of MPAs can bring together different parties to find and implement the “most appropriate management measures to increase or maintain ecosystem resilience”. MPAs can be key sentinels of climate change, laboratories to monitor the effects of climate change, and areas where to develop new management tools.
There is a need to include more actors in MPA planning. For instance, it is necessary to bring fisheries into the “knowledge, consultation and collaboration” process ensure adaptive management. MPAs should be based on an ecosystem approach and boast a new research agenda on the impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems.
While the Paris Agreement refers to protecting and sustainably managing forest carbon stocks, in its Article 5, the ocean has been left out as an important carbon sink. Given that healthy, productive and resilient oceans are critical for poverty eradication, access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food, livelihoods, economic development”, there must be a shift in how international negotiations take into account the links between biodiversity and climate change.
Additionally, as Ecologically and Biologically Significant Marine Areas do not follow national boundaries and Economic Exclusive Zones, there is a need for regional frameworks of action for MPA networks management.