Marine Protected Areas
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature a Marine Protected Area is: “any area of intertidal or sub-tidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or the entire enclosed environment” (IUCN)
Although the sea covers 70% of our planet, only 2% of this is protected according to the IUCN. In Ireland the IWT has carried out research that shows that there are 78 MPAs that have been designated under the European Union’s Habitats Directive. This doesn’t include coastal areas that have been protected under the Birds Directive (although many overlap). You can download our research paper by clicking here. This is a good start but the IWT believes that the Government’s definition of MPAs is too narrow as it is only used as a tool to protect a small number of highly threatened habitats, such as cold water coral reefs. It does not try to rebuild populations of fish that have been over-exploited and nor is it used as a tool for protecting wider marine biodiversity or promoting marine tourism.
It may seem paradoxical but creating marine reserves, where no damaging fishing activity takes place, actually benefits fishermen as they act as nursery grounds and allow fish to grow large, where they breed more. This means more, and bigger fish, that gets a better price at market. You can download more information on how this works by clicking here – but research has shown that even small reserves can yield benefits for valuable fish such as cod.