The Australian plan, for example, angered commercial fishing interests while disappointing some environmentalists by falling short of the protections they envisioned. In California, the just-finalized network of state underwater parks drew complaints from a Native American tribe that said the new restrictions could infringe on its long-held harvesting rights.
Australia timed its announcement to coincide with the run-up to the Rio+20 Earth Summit, a global gathering next week where leaders from more than 130 nations will meet to discuss how to ensure economic development while protecting key parts of the environment.
“We have an incredible opportunity to turn the tide on protection of the oceans and Australia can lead the world in marine protection,” Environment Minister Tony Burke said Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
Jessica Meeuwig, a University of Western Australia professor, said: “Marine reserves, including fully protected sanctuary zones, are an essential contribution to ensuring healthy oceans.”
“The science is clear on this,” she added in an e-mail. “Compared to areas open to extraction, marine sanctuaries have significantly more species, higher numbers of individuals and significantly larger animals.”
The drive to create marine reserves — some of which are fully protected from exploitation, others which allow for activities including fishing and mining — is taking place on two fronts. It targets several of the most remote, biologically rich spots in the ocean, such as Australia’s Coral Sea, along with some near-shore areas where local communities are willing to restrict their activities.
“If we’re going to protect 10 percent of the ocean by 2020, the first places that need to be protected are the last wild places in the sea,” said Enric Sala, a National Geographic explorer in residence. “But we still need to create hundreds of thousands of protected marine reserves in places where people live and fish to make a living.”
The centerpiece of Australia’s announcement is a no-take reserve of 193,000 square miles in the Coral Sea, roughly the size of Spain, which will rank as the world’s second-largest fully protected marine reserve. Situated east of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the region boasts vibrant reefs and deep-water sharks, as well as tuna and marlin.
Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, whose organization has lobbied for a no-take reserve in the Coral Sea and in other regions, said these remote areas need to be protected before they become accessible and depleted.