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New study: 22 out of 23 U.S. states aren’t doing enough to protect marine resources

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mci-logoEarlier today, the Marine Conservation Institute and Mission Blue released SeaStates, the first ever national ranking of how well different U.S. states and territories protect their ocean resources. The full report is available online and is an important read, but can be summarized in 5 words: “Most states aren’t doing enough”.

The gold standard for the protection of marine resources is no-take marine reserves, areas of the ocean where no fishing or oil/gas extraction is permitted. Decades of research on marine reserves worldwide have shown that they usually have more fish, bigger fish, and more species of fish than environmentally similar areas (often adjacent to the reserve border) where fishing is allowed. In other words, when you don’t kill fish, more of them are alive.

While recommendations of how much of the ocean needs to be protected by no-take reserves vary, a commonly cited figure is 20%. Of 23 U.S. coastal states and territories, only one (Hawaii) achieved that goal. My current state of residence, Florida, has the fourth highest % of no-take marine reserve at 1.12%. North Carolina, home to many Southern Fried Science writers, is in the top half with 0.04% no-take marine reserve. 15 coastal states and territories don’t have a single square foot of no-take marine reserve. See how your state stacks up:

From the SeaStates report

From the SeaStates report

“Whether you love our oceans for their beauty, for their fishes and marine mammals, or for generating half of the oxygen we breathe, you should want them to be strongly protected. But most states in this report get a score of zero and only a handful are protecting even 1%. That’s not good enough when our oceans are facing grave threats like overfishing and pollution,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue in the press release accompanying this report.

Overall, just 1.2% of U.S. coastal state and territory waters are protected by no-take marine reserves, the overwhelming majority of which is in Hawaii. Worldwide, just 1.1% of the ocean is no-take marine reserve (1.8% is no-take marine reserve or “multiple use” marine protected area). For reference, approximately 13% of land is protected. If you want to explore the world’s marine protected areas in detail, check out MPA Atlas, a project of the Marine Conservation Institute, which was used to generate the SeaStates report.

If you’re as horrified by these results as I am, the report recommends several ways that you can help:

• Urging our leaders to create more no-take marine reserves

• Making conserving the oceans an important issue, and voting for people who really
share our values and act on them (see oceanchampions.org)

• Visiting coastal locations only in states that do the best job of protecting our marine
environment

• Eating only sustainably caught seafood (see montereybayaquarium.org) at home and at
restaurants, and telling that to those who sell you seafood

• Finding meaningful ways to reduce your family’s energy use

• Supporting nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations who work to save marine life