A global commitment to manage the ocean more effectively has the full support of the New Zealand seafood industry. One of the world’s most influential forums, the 2014 IUCN World Parks Congress is currently underway in Sydney, with members sharing the latest scientific knowledge and management of protected areas, as well as considering targets that drive the world’s conservation reserves.

Dr Jeremy Helson, Chief Executive of Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, is speaking at this year’s Congress and shared this country’s experience of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) as part of a wider debate on this issue.

Since the 1970s New Zealand has been a pioneer in marine protection and now has one of the largest MPA networks in the world. Perhaps surprisingly, the majority of the area protected was initiated by the seafood industry in 2006. “With 1.2 million km2 of New Zealand’s marine environment incorporated into MPAs, 30 per cent of New Zealand waters fall within an MPA,” says Dr Helson. “On the global stage our contribution makes up 15 per cent of the total area protected by MPAs around the world. This is a significant contribution for a country of our size.”

Signatories to the Convention on Biological Diversity, including New Zealand, have committed to protecting 10 per cent of oceans by 2020. According to the latest figures, MPAs cover around 3.4 per cent of oceans globally. Amongst the OECD countries, New Zealand has the second largest network of MPAs, USA has the largest (at 1.3 million km2, 13 per cent of their jurisdiction), and Australia has the third largest (at 0.8 million km2, 11 per cent of their jurisdiction, with plans that are currently under review for an additional 2.3 million km2).

While coverage against international targets is one metric for measuring ocean management, Dr Helson urges a wider debate on MPA effectiveness and alternative management measures that may deliver biodiversity and fisheries benefits more effectively and at lesser cost to resource users. “It is important that MPAs are seen as one of a range of possible management tools, not an end in themselves.” These will be some of the issues discussed by Dr Helson and others this week at the Congress, with consensus and action being sought to bridge the gaps and bring about more effective marine management.