137 countries (shown in green) have declared some form of Marine Protected Area

137 countries (shown in green) have declared some form of Marine Protected Area

"This is the golden thread that binds the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance. A number of Member States and others have stepped forward to show leadership in recognizing that sanctuaries can indeed heal the ocean"
- Mark Newhouse, President

Virtually every country with a marine coastline has declared one or more marine protected areas. States that disagree with each other on a whole range of issues find common ground in that they have recognized the value of protecting the ocean by establishing marine sanctuaries.
This is the golden thread that binds the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance.

SDG 14 talks about various initiatives to address the alarming prospect of the decline of the ocean. In addition to marine protected areas (sanctuaries) it talks about government subsidies to commercial fishermen, excessive bycatch, illegal equipment, acidification, pollution, and warming among many worrisome factors.

The Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA) believes the establishment of “no-take” protected areas where commercial fishing cannot occur is the single most important of all these initiatives, and should be strongly supported by member-states responding to the need for urgent action. This must be considered against the background that the current situation of fish stock depletion is deteriorating rapidly. Many commercial fisheries are quickly approaching collapse. It is possible to save them if action is taken within the next five years. After that, even though many fish stocks will be on the way to recovery, some will have been lost forever. 

The only numerical goal in SDG 14, and possibly in all the SDGs, is Target 5: By 2020, conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on best available scientific information. The establishment of sanctuaries therefore can be measured precisely at any given point. The member-states will know if that goal has been achieved, or will know what still must be done to achieve it. This alone makes the sanctuary goal stand out among the other objectives of SDG 14. 

Most important, we believe the establishment of sanctuaries can be accomplished more quickly than any of the other actions contemplated by SDG 14. It takes the political will or decision of each member-state to establish the boundaries of protected areas. While the political process required to take such decisions varies among member-states, all have the capacity to take swift action in the face of an urgent need. Once the decision is taken, the protected area comes immediately into existence and its boundaries are known to all.

 Furthermore, we believe that compliance with no-take sanctuaries will be much easier to monitor and enforce than many of the other measures discussed in SDG 14. It will not be necessary to board fishing vessels to inspect their equipment or their catch. It will not be necessary to figure out if subsidies are being paid or not. The mere presence of a fishing vessel in a sanctuary area would be grounds for enforcement action. We believe the naval vessels and crews and the surveillance technology already deployed by member-states are sufficient to monitor protected areas to achieve quick compliance.

Can be easily measured (in square km.)

            Can be implemented unilaterally by member states

Can be implemented quickly 

Can have immediate results (depending on fish/fisher)

OSA believes that with the benefit of the best available science on marine protected areas, it can recommend best practices for developing, implementing, and enforcing these areas, and make them financially self-sustaining. Considering the 10 percent target is to be achieved by 2020, effective rather than hasty implementation can make the difference between protecting 10 percent of bare ocean versus protecting ten percent of optimal ocean. 

One possible approach to achieving the 10 percent target is to do so within Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs), areas that have been scientifically classified and are in many cases trans-boundary. By nature, LMEs take into account marine ecosystem functions, and designating protected areas within LMEs could facilitate an interconnected, rather than fragmented, system. 

The GEF, other UN agencies, and scientists alike have endorsed the classification of oceans by LME, and have funded programs and projects to encourage regional collaboration to achieve sustainability within LMEs. It is possible that sanctuary establishment within some LMEs can build upon the great work already being done by governments and agencies in these areas, and can provide a more efficient, as well as an ecosystem-based approach to achieving the ten percent conservation target.