The Key Role of Marine Protected Areas in Restoring Ocean Health

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The Sustainable Tour arrives to Portofino (IT) Marine Protected Area

Located in northern Italy, the Marine Protected Area (MPA) of ​​Portofino extends around the promontory of the same name included in the municipalities of Camogli, Portofino and S. Margherita Ligure. As the first stop of the Sustainable Tour, we passed by this beautiful area to know more about the importance of MPAs for marine conservation and diving activities.

We have also taken the opportunity to unite our passage with one of the stages of the Climate Change Days 2021 Tour, an initiative that was born from the European project MPA-Engage – created in collaboration between PADI EMEA and DAN Europe and funded by the EC Interreg MED program – which is focused on the effects of climate change in the Mediterranean. The MPA of Portofino is one of the pilot sites selected to study, experiment and implement adaptation, management and mitigation measures against climate change.

Why should we protect Marine Ecosystems?

The science is telling us that we need to do much more to ensure a healthy Ocean for future generations, since it is essential to life on earth. The Ocean is home to 80% of all life on the planet and it’s responsible for every 2nd breath we take.

It also plays a critical role maintaining our climate and has absorbed 30% of the excess carbon dioxide emissions emitted into the atmosphere. All of us, directly and indirectly, depend on it – from the air we breathe, the food we eat, to jobs and livelihoods.

But although The Ocean covers 70% of the Earth’s surface it is still woefully under protected: according to Ocean Unite Organisation, only 2% is strongly protected from destructive or extractive activities! 

We need a step change in the designation and implementation of fully protected areas worldwide. If we take care of The Ocean it will take care of us.

Red coral in Portofino MPA. Diving with Mondo Fondo Diving Club – Genova.

What are MPAs and why are they so important?

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are selected areas that are established for the protection, administration, maintenance and restoration of biologically important ecosystems, threatened by human activities.

These threats include overfishing, litter, water pollution, and global climate change. The colateral effects of this dangers are now a daily occurrence with increasingly intense and evident repercussions, causing a decline in the population of many fish, marine mammals, and other sea creatures.

Given the worrying deterioration of marine environments around the world, the role of Marine Protected Areas acquires special relevance in providing them with the space, care and necessary time to regain their health.

By establishing networks of fully protected areas throughout the Ocean, from the polar oceans to tropical seas, from coastal waters to the vast expanses of the open ocean, the full spectrum of marine life can thrive, building the resilience needed to ensure a vibrant and healthy Ocean for the future.

Posedonia fields in Portofino. Diving with Mondo Fondo Diving Club – Genova.

Benefits of MPAs

  • Healthier ecosystems and species that are more resilient and better able to withstand and recover from the impacts of climate change.
  • Climate change mitigation through protection of coastal habitats like mangroves, seagrass beds and salt marshes that are vital for the sequestering and storing carbon.
  • Reduction of ocean risk from extreme weather events, like storm surges, through protection of coastal natural defense systems, like reefs and mangroves. 
  • Livelihoods and food for all.
  • More and bigger fish and greater species diversity.
  • Safe havens for threatened species like whales, sharks, rays and turtles.
  • High financial returns – according to Ocean Unite, estimated economic benefit of protecting 30% of the ocean is between US$490 to $920 billion by 2050, and would create 150,000 to 180,000 full-time jobs.
Spreading the word among divers about the importance of renewable energy for ocean health.
With Diving Group Portofino

The importance of Monitoring MPAs

The vital role of MPAs is expanded when they are part of a broader program of measures for coastal and marine management.

Projects that focus on monitoring MPAs, such as MPA-Engage, aims to make Marine Protected Areas sentinel sites where to study climate change and where to develop adaptation strategies and plans to mitigate its effects, both from an ecological and socio-economic point of view.

The specific monitoring already in place includes:

  • Temperature monitoring of the water column up to 40m deep with the aid of special sensors capable of measuring it every hour.
  • Evaluation of the mortality of sessile organisms.
  • Visual Census of fish fauna, with particular reference to species that indicate climate change.

Monitoring MPAs allows increasing knowledge of coastal marine ecosystems and understanding their interactions with human activities (including related impacts), so that we can assess the vulnerability of marine ecosystems and socioeconomic activities to climate change (preparation of adaptation plans).

Spreading the word among dive centres about the importance of renewable energy for ocean health.
With Diving Group Portofino

The joint work of all stakeholders is needed: together we can make a difference!

It is essential to involve recreational divers and local actors for the collection of specific data on climate change through specific activities and protocols (Citizen Sciences and Local Ecological Knowledge).

Another main objective for success is to get the participation of other important actors, mainly recreational fishermen and local administrators, who are fundamental to effectively implement the good practices indicated in the adaptation plans, as well as to involve decision makers at the local, regional and international levels.

The 30X30 Movement: What would strong protection of 30% of the Ocean by 2030 achieve?

30X30 is a call to action to safeguard at least 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030, through a global network of highly protected Marine Areas where no destructive or extractive activities like fishing or mining can take place. The campaign aims to build the resilience of ocean life to adapt to climate change and buffer it from other threats like overfishing. 

We all need to work together to supercharge ocean protection and make Ocean Protection a reality through action on the water, on the streets and in the corridors of power.

Share this article if you think it is important to spread the word and achieve this goal. 

You can also be a change-maker.

DAN Ambassadors Alana & Manu