Ocean Sanctuaries

Scientists say it works, fishermen say it works, even governments say it works, so let's get together to make it happen. That means politicians, businesses, fishermen, scientists, you, me and all our friends working together to create ocean sanctuaries – large areas where you don't take anything, break anything or pollute anything. It is by far the most significant thing we can do to be the change we want for the seas.

The logic behind the "don't take anything" principle is as simple as this little graphic – leave the fish in an ocean sanctuary and they grow bigger. Bigger fish produce more eggs than smaller fish. The larger numbers of eggs, larvae and fish spillover the borders of an ocean sanctuary, where we can fish them. If the fishing industry stops taking fish at the current rate and starts to support ocean sanctuaries, it will live longer too. More fish also means more food for other species and healthier oceans.
Fish in Los Islotes Seal Colony. 11/20/2006 © Greenpeace / Alex Hofford

But there's more:

"Don't take anything" also applies to other extractive industries including the mining and oil industries. Both are destructive and polluting on a massive scale. Deep sea mining is becoming a significant threat to ocean life. Both mining and oil drilling also fall into the "don't break anything" category as well, along with destructive fishing techniques such as bottom trawling. Bottom trawlers smash everything in their path with their steel doors and rollers, leaving no safe havens for marine life to feed, breed and shelter.

Destructive Fishing Methods in the Gulf of Thailand. 06/17/2013 © Athit Perawongmetha / Greenpeace

You would imagine that "don't pollute anything" would be obvious, but it is not just the media-hyped oil spills that pollute our oceans. The most serious damage comes from the land – more oil is washed down drains and into the ocean than ocean-based spills; fertilizer run off that causes creeping dead zones that can be seen from space; plastics that ensnare or choke animals and create huge trash convergence zones, one known as the  trash vortex which has been estimated to be at least as large as Alberta.     

Manila Bay Clean Up. 08/16/2006 © Greenpeace / Gavin Newman

So to compete with all that – the oceans need big sanctuaries. A large number of scientists help Greenpeace pull together the maps and information that made up the Emergency Oceans Rescue Plan. Greenpeace says 40% of the world’s oceans should become ocean sanctuaries. Currently less than 1% of international waters are protected – so we need to pick up the pace. You are welcome to share and use the Rescue Plan, download it and find your nearest ocean sanctuary to champion.

Proposal for a global network of marine reserves

Ocean sanctuaries aren't just random dots on a map. Their boundaries should be decided according to need, using the best scientific information available so that they bring the maximum benefits. Even the numbers of the great ocean wanderers, such as tuna and sharks, will be significantly boosted over time by zoning off their breeding and feeding grounds. In coastal areas a patchwork of smaller sanctuaries is required enabling coastal communities to champion sustainable fishing practices so ensuring food and income now and in the future.

Reef Investigation in Apo Island. 07/11/2013 © Steve De Neef / Greenpeace

While we need a massive expansion in the number and scale of ocean sanctuaries, they don’t need to be expensive. A study of how much it would cost to zone of protected areas across the oceans concluded it would be around US$12-14 billion.

You may have spotted that the report is ten years old. There hasn't been a revision of it yet, but according to the US Bureau of Labor statistics 14 billion dollars is now worth 17 billion, so let’s call it is round 20 billion. It is estimated that by 2015 the global spend on luxury watches, handbags, shoes and jewelry will exceed 307 billion dollars – FIFTEEN TIMES the cost of the world's most essential asset – our oceans.

It should be about real value, not cost, right?

This is the future that cartoonists Steven Appleby and Pete Bishop predict if we don't give ocean life sanctuary:


Don't leave it until the last batfish have gone! Ask your friends, your family, your politicians and your industries to join together to create a global network of ocean sanctuaries.