Protecting Our Marine Heritage

“We need to ensure that majestic areas are protected from short-sighted, economically motivated actions because they can result in long-lasting damage that will prevent our children from enjoying these natural treasures. That is what is at stake.” - Jean-Michel Cousteau

On August 5, 2009 the California Fish and Game Commission approved the creation of marine reserves and parks in the second of five regions slated for marine protection along the California coast.   This area stretches form Pigeon Point in San Mateo County to just north of Point Arena in Mendocino County.   The 21 marine protected areas cover 155 square miles of ocean, extending to up to three miles off the coast.   The protected areas offer a mix of restrictions from reserves, which mainly prohibit extractive uses of the area, to marine parks and managed recreation areas, which offer some limited use.   Marine protected areas serve as refuges for marine species, the effects of which can spill over to surrounding areas and help maintain healthy populations.   This is great news for California, which is a leader in the U.S. for implementing this type of ocean protection, and for the ocean resources we are trying to preserve. This is great news for everyone, as we are intricately linked to a healthy and productive marine environment.

It took the U.S. one hundred years from the protection of its first terrestrial park (Yellowstone National Park) to establish its counterpart in the sea (Monitor National Marine Sanctuary).   We now protect 12 percent of our land, but we need to see a similar percentage for the ocean areas. In the last three years the U.S. has protected over 340,000 square miles of ocean as national monuments, which are highlighted in the recent Ocean Futures Society film and book America’s Underwater Treasures.   While I applaud this commitment to safeguard the sea, it only increased ocean protection from 0.6 of one percent to 0.8 of one percent of the global ocean.   That leaves 99.2 percent of the ocean that is open to fishing, mining, dumping and other extractive uses. Marine protection is under way in California but we now need to commit to ocean protection on a global scale.

Because our planet has one global water system, protecting the health of the ocean everywhere is important to all of us no matter where we live.   Marine protected areas are thus important to everyone even in remote areas.   One place that I know and love is the Kimberley region of North Western Australia.   This is a place of extraordinary beauty where our expedition filmed a rugged coastline, with fierce tides and abundant wildlife.   Right now there is an effort to protect this area from a proposed natural gas plant that could harm one of the last wild places left on earth.   When we were there in the late 1980s we discovered the region hosts one of the world’s largest humpback whale populations, a nursery for the dugong, a threatened species and over 3000 coral fringed islands, in addition to sea turtles nesting grounds and that’s just the marine life. We followed the rugged coastline inland and found rivers that abound with reptiles (large crocodiles among others) and fish as well as unique plant and bird life.   We need to ensure that majestic areas such as the Kimberleys are protected from short-sighted, economically motivated actions because they can result in long-lasting damage that will prevent our children from enjoying these natural treasures. That is what is at stake.