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By Dorothy C. Zbicz, PhD
Oceans cover more than two-thirds of the earth’s surface. While 12% of the earth’s land surface is conserved in over 100,000 protected areas, only 0.7% of the marine area is under protection in only 5,000 sites (UNEP-WCMC). Although marine protected areas (MPAs) lag behind their terrestrial counterparts, marine conservation is actually increasing at a more rapid pace, as vast marine areas are coming under protection. Due to fluid nature of water, like the atmosphere, most ocean ecosystems have transboundary properties as the waters and species move across national jurisdictions. Therefore, to some extent, most effective marine conservation includes some transboundary cooperation, between neighboring countries or across marine regions.
Transboundary marine protected areas
While MPAs are contiguous across many international boundaries and collaboration takes place between them, some have gone further to seek the designation of transboundary MPAs. Lubombo TFCA, the first marine transfrontier conservation area in Africa was established in 2007 by Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland, focusing on marine turtle conservation. The Pelagos Sanctuary for Cetaceans in the Ligurian Sea of the Mediterranean involves cooperation among France, Italy, and Monaco.
Three transboundary marine sites have been inscribed on the World Heritage List. These include Kluane/Wrangell-St Elias/ Glacier Bay/ Tatshenshini-Alsek between Canada and the U.S., the High Coast/ Kvarken Archipelago between Finland and Sweden, and the Wadden Sea between Germany and the Netherlands, with Denmark also participating. The World Heritage Marine Program has also focused attention on transboundary marine conservation in the central Pacific islands and atolls of Kiribati, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and U.S. territories.
Marine Peace Parks
Transboundary marine conservation has also been used to contribute to peace-building and improving relations between countries through the concept of Marine Peace Parks. The Red Sea Marine Peace Park between Jordan and Israel was established as part of the 1994 peace treaty. It promotes collaboration between the countries to protect transboundary coral reefs and tourism. Although not contiguous, the two MPAs in each country’s waters share common species and environmental stresses.
Marine peace parks have also been proposed for several regions where maritime boundaries are still in dispute or peace-building is needed. South Korea has proposed a Korean marine peace park to jointly promote both conservation and peaceful resolution of unresolved boundary disputes. Other marine peace parks have been proposed for the Eastern Caribbean Island states; Gaza/Jordan/Israel on the Mediterranean coast; Pakistan and India near the Indus River delta region; the Former republics of Yugoslavia on the Adriatic Sea; Greece and Turkey on Cyprus; and the Pratas/Spratly Islands region of the South China Sea and between Japan and Russia in the Kuril Islands.
From transboundary to regional marine conservation
Often marine conservation is necessary at a larger, regional scale, involving multiple countries and boundaries. As early as 1974, the UNEP Regional Seas Agreements began promoting environmental cooperation, although they were initially more focused on preventing pollution than on conservation. Today, they cover 18 regional seas around the world and address conservation issues as well. The Pelagos Cetacean Sanctuary was established under the aegis of the Mediterranean Sea Agreement (aka The Barcelona Convention.) Members of two regional seas agreements, OSPAR and HELCOM in the Northeast Atlantic today collaborate with the Northeast Atlantic Fisheries Commission to develop and manage a network of MPAs in the region. This is a model likely to be replicated between other regional seas and fisheries management organizations.
In 1984, the concept of Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) was introduced to identify 64 coastal ecosystems globally. The Global Environmental Facility has used LMEs since 1994 as a means for facilitating integration across sectors and geographies in marine and coastal regions. In many cases, these provided the basis for transboundary, regional scale marine projects involving multiple countries. One example is the Guinea Current LME off the west coast of Africa, where sixteen countries have formed the Guinea Current Commission. The Benguela Current Commission, comprised of Namibia, Angola and South Africa provides for collective management of all transboundary marine ecosystem issues among these three countries.
Some of the most significant regional marine conservation in recent years is taking place under the Coral Triangle Initiative (CTI), a collaboration of six countries - Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and Timor L’este to protect and manage sustainable use of the richest marine biodiversity on earth. Built on the foundation of previous transboundary collaborations in the Sulu-Sulawesi and Bismarck-Solomon Seas marine ecoregions, the CTI countries have committed to cooperating in managing this rich marine region. Other governments, international organizations and NGOs have partnered with the CT governments to provide over $120 million USD in funding to support the goals of the CTI.
Transboundary MPA networks
Often single marine protected areas (MPAs), even large ones, are not adequate to protect the vast migratory ranges of many marine species. As on land, connecting several MPAs within corridors can improve their effectiveness for species conservation. Recognizing this need for ecological connectivity, the Convention on Biological Diversity calls for networks of MPAs to be established. This need for connectivity was behind the formation of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Corridor initiative in 2004 by Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama. These countries agreed to protect 2.1 million sq. km of their islands and marine areas and to collaborate in marine conservation. It led to two new marine UNESCO World Heritage sites in Panama and Colombia. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation under the North American Free Trade Agreement collaborates on a virtual North American MPAs Network (NAMPAN) to address tri-national and transboundary marine conservation along the Pacific coast, contributing to the proposed “Baja to Bering Initiative.” Other collaboration is taking place on the Meso-American Reef among Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
Marine cooperation beyond national jurisdiction
While much transboundary marine conservation takes place between neighboring countries, some also involves boundaries between the waters under the jurisdiction of coastal states and the areas beyond national jurisdiction, or the high seas. The UN Fish Stocks Agreement requires that conservation measures for straddling fish stocks be complementary in these regions. A grander scale of transboundary conservation is underway in the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica. Parties to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) are seeking to establish a network of MPAs or even a single giant MPA to protect the Ross Sea, one of the world’s last remaining pristine marine areas, which under the Antarctic Treaty System is considered high seas.
While protected areas feature prominently in most transboundary marine conservation, much additional collaboration also takes place outside of MPAs. This international cooperation addresses issues such as migratory species, transboundary fisheries, marine pollution, and the myriad other human uses of the oceans from land-sourced pollution to mineral resource extraction to shipping to discarded fishing gear and climate change, all of which can threaten marine ecosystems. Out of necessity, transboundary conservation may be even more critical in marine realms than it is on land.