Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been growing in number in recent years, driven in part by the Convention on Biological Diversity. As the necessary parks of the sea, MPAs face significant challenges with monitoring and enforcement, mostly limited to single interventions or scattered mixtures of innovative uses of technology and traditional vessel-based monitoring. The enforcement and monitoring of MPAs is made largely ineffectual by distance and the inability to monitor and enforce remotely. Moreover, the establishment of MPAs as static plots of the ocean has been called into question, as the dynamics of oceans and marine species make ecological protection difficult in a single location. Locating and solidifying MPAs is an imprecise science that lacks the information and technological integration to be more efficient in achieving conservation outcomes.
Real-time monitoring of everything on or below the water with surveillance technology and data analytics designed for affordability and autonomy within the developing and developed world. This challenge seeks innovations that:
Around 3.4% of the world’s oceans are protected in what are designated marine protected areas (MPAs), yet most of that fraction of the ocean is neither well managed nor well protected, if protected at all. Expansion of MPAs is largely an effort of policy and the political apparatus. Fully protected areas, such as strict nature reserves or wilderness areas where all resource removals are prohibited, are rare. Most MPAs represent mixed-use areas that have bans on catching specific fish or restrictions on the timing or type of fishing, but that still allow some, often significant, human activity. Protected areas in the ocean, unlike a forest patch, are far more difficult to manage and face increasing challenges, especially as they expand to enforce boundaries and policies with no observable boundaries or protective barriers to the sea. Moreover, marine species and ecosystems do not respect human-set political boundaries; they are dynamic systems characterized by constant change.
Economically and environmentally, ecologically coherent and well-managed networks of MPAs make sense. It is estimated that nearly 41% of the ocean is strongly affected by human activity, with no region entirely untouched by humans. WWF estimates that the benefits of expanding MPAs to cover 30% of the ocean (especially critical habitats) will outweigh the costs at least 3 to 1, with the net improvement in economic benefits of $920 billion over the next 35 years. MPAs not only further environmental protection, but by allowing source populations to replenish fishing grounds, also maintain the sustainability and economic strength of local fishing industries.
Political processes create these networks, yet enforcement and accountability remain major challenges as marine parks globally are commonly understaffed, cannot adequately oversee all protected coastline and marine space, may come into confrontation with local traditions, and may suffer from corruption. Even when properly managed, eco-tourism can drastically impact the health of local ecosystems unless properly controlled. At the heart, this requires affordable, autonomous systems that can monitor, survey, and measure the activities and ecological processes in MPAs and novel financial systems to ensure that MPA management allows for broad sharing of benefits.
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