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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The global network of marine protected areas: developing baselines and identifying priorities Wood, Louisa Jane


Recently adopted global marine protection targets aim to protect 10-30% of marine habitats within the next 3 to 5 years. However, these targets were adopted without prior assessment of their attainability. Moreover, our ability to monitor progress towards such targets has been constrained by a lack of robust data on marine protected areas (MPAs). In this thesis I present the results of the first explicitly marine-focused, global assessment of MPAs in relation to three global marine protection targets. Approximately 2.35 million km2, equivalent to 0.65% of the world’s oceans, are currently protected, and only 12% of that is ‘no-take’. Over the last two decades, the marine area protected globally has grown at ~5% per year. At this rate, even the most modest target is unlikely to be met for at least several decades. The utility of large-scale conservation targets has been repeatedly questioned, although mainly on ecological grounds. However, if, as is suggested here, their primary role is to motivate behavioural change, then a more serious problem is that they seem to be failing in this regard, too. I explore possible reasons for this and suggest two main problems: firstly, an as yet unmet need to develop a hierarchical system of targets that reflects the multi-scale and pluralistic nature of ecological and political systems; and secondly, feedback mechanisms between political will, perceived attainability, and target formulation which may impede implementation of the targets. Since the adoption of the global targets, no implementation strategy has been developed, which may also impede target attainment. In order to fill this gap, I applied a rarity-complementarity heuristic place prioritisation algorithm (PPA) to a dataset consisting of 1038 global species distributions with 0.5° latitude/longitude resolution, under ten scenarios devised to reflect the global targets. This is the first time that species distribution ranges of marine species have been used in a globally synthetic way, and is by far the largest application of a PPA to date. Global priority areas for protection are identified for each scenario, which may be used to identify where regional-scale protected areas network design efforts might be focused.

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