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Marine Protected Areas, Sanctuaries and Nature Reserves

Short Description

During the past two centuries, commercial whaling has devastated the planet’s Whale populations, pushing some species to the brink of extinction.

In 1986, through the offices of the International Whaling Commission or IWC, a global moratorium on whaling was imposed, but despite this, it is estimated that over 30,000 whales have been killed since this moratorium justified largely through ‘scientific research’.

Other marine species such as the Seals, Dolphin and Sharks have also been globally hunted for a variety of reasons, sometimes resulting in entire colonies and population groups being wiped out. 

In order to protect the diminishing whale populations, the IWC established Whale Sanctuaries that covered large areas of the Indian and Southern Oceans, since these animals migrate over vast distances to feed and mate. With the recognized exploitation and impact of man on other species, there is a growing movement by countries, territories and regions to establish outside of the IWC, not only their own local whale sanctuaries, but general Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Marine Reserves and Marine National Parks where all marine species are protected from commercial exploitation.

Most countries in the world that have access to the sea have recognized the urgent need to protect their natural marine resources and rather concentrate on their sustainable us in the furtherance of tourism and education, while at the same time restoring the critical balance of nature that is necessary for fish and other marine food sources to re-establish themselves. The long term benefits of establishing and maintaining MPAs, Reserves and other no-go areas have been seen to far outweigh the short-term commercial exploitation practices.

No all countries agree unfortunately, with Japan, Iceland and Norway continually mounting pressure to exploit these animals under the guise or research and traditional cultural terms. 

Whale Sanctuaries 

The first significant whale sanctuary was declared in 1972  on Mexico’s west coast at Laguna Ojo de Liebre in the Baja region.

In 1979 the IWC declared the Indian Ocean Sanctuary, a vast area stretching from the tip of Africa to Australia where all commercial or other exploitation of whales is prohibited.

In 1994, the second huge Southern Ocean Sanctuary was established by the IWC, mainly  due to the difficulty of regulating whaling activities over such a vast and remote area. The importance of the Southern Oceans and Antarctica was also recognized for their contribution to the worlds food supply starting near the bottom of the food chain with massive krill populations, a staple diet of many whales.

The Southern and Indian Ocean Sanctuaries are connected as many of the Indian Ocean whales enter the southern oceans as they head south to feed.

In 2000 and again 2001 it was proposed by Australia and New Zealand to declare most of the Southern Pacific Ocean a Whale Sanctuary, but in failed to obtain the required number of votes at the IWC.

More recently Brazil and Argentina proposed setting up the South Atlantic Sanctuary in 2001. Again it was overturned due to getting insufficient votes at the IWC. 


Marine Protected Areas 

Meanwhile there is a growing movement by countries, territories and regions to independently establish (whale) sanctuaries outside of the IWC. In addition, most countries have expanded the concept to include other or all species into what they have termed Marine Protected Areas,  Marine Reserves, National Marine Parks and various other names.

These areas all signify more or less the same thing – the areas are set aside primarily for the benefit and protection of the marine, animals, fish and plant species that inhabit the area. Different restrictions apply from one type of reserve to another – some allow limited fishing, others ban all fishing activities and some are exclusion zones through which no shipping or vessels may pass. The primary purpose is to allow certain habitats to recover their environmental balance as well as variety and abundance of species – a place where the impact of the human presence is minimized or removed altogether. 

So far there are numerous countries in the world that have variously declared over 186 MPAs in addition to Marine Reserves, Marine Parks and other limited activity and/or restricted access areas. 

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