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Covering 70% of the Earth’s surface, oceans are regarded as the largest ecosystems on the planet. They have been victims of human-induced exploitation, pollution, warming and acidification all of which pose threats to marine life but our knowledge of marine ecosystems lags behind that of terrestrial ecosystems because obtaining detailed measurements or results of the effect can be perilous due to the size of the oceans and their limitations but the impact is still very much observable. Escalated human activity since the Industrial Revolution – primarily the burning of fossil fuels – has caused an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by 40% since the 1980s. This traps heat and consequentially, global temperatures have increased by 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 F)1. Up until recently, oceans have been efficacious in the impediment of climate change. Marine waters and ecosystems, such as coral reefs, mangrove and sea grass beds, absorb one-third of the annual carbon dioxide pollution and have taken up over 90% of the heat trapped.2 However, oceans seem to be taking he worst of the impact. In the largest coral bleaching incident ever recorded in history, 67% of 700km chaff in the north of the reef lost its corals over nine months and over 22% died instantly when exorbitantly warm water hit the reef. This was found in a study conducted by the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.3 Apart from this, the animals are being suffocated in the murky waters and thus, flee to find waters with more oxygen.4

We have managed to gain food, economic activity, and cultural value for a large proportion of humanity. Thus, protection of marine ecosystems has latterly become a concern, not simply because the marine life is at stake here but in addition to this, oceans adversely affect the climate and contribute $500 billion to the world’s economy annually.5 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are protected areas of seas, oceans, estuaries or large lakes that restrict human activity (fishing, moorings etc.) for a conservation purpose. 6 The marine resources are protected by local, state, territorial, native, regional, national, or international authorities and differ substantially among and between nations.

There has been much debate about the ethicality of the establishment of MPAs and the money that is annually spent on them. Prioritization of future areas for protection is hampered by disagreements over what the ecological targets of conservation should be. In terms of main approach to “conservation” – referred to as the “the protection of plants and animals, natural areas…especially from the damaging effects of human activity”  by the Cambridge Dictionary, a worldwide accepted authority on the English Language – MPAs are not the single strategy to curb the threat of endangering marine animals but more time and energy are applied to the establishment and maintenance.

Considering the first perspective which states that “MPAs should not be the primary approach to marine conservation”, the biggest conflict identified is the staggering cost of MPAs. Currently, MPAs cover about 4.12% of the marine areas and according to goals set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Sustainable Development Goals, parties have agreed to conserve 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020. The estimated cost of running 83 MPAs worldwide is between $5 billion and $19 billion annually where 20-30% of the world’s seas are conserved. While the service benefits of running these MPAs is estimated at USD 622-923 billion over the span of 35 years, the point that raises many ethical questions  is whether maintaining MPAs is still worth the effort. Bruce Tenenbaum in an article for the Guardian points out how humans are more fragile than the Earth which has weathered changes after all these years. His argument is that the human race is what needs saving. This article is indeed valid as it is from a highly credible and authoritative source that is, the Huffington Post. Tenenbaum’s perspective does indeed question the need for saving species – that will threaten human lives anyway when they have to be explored – as opposed to saving humans by spending on research for diseases like cancer, HIV, AIDS, etc. or helping the homeless find proper shelter, clothing and food.

Since the basic aim of MPAs is to limit human activity, most fishermen lose their jobs and usually, their sole source of income. This causes outrage in local communities that resolve to, often violent ways of protesting. Scientist Nathan Bennett, in an interview with Yale University gave the example of the Andaman coast where the locals set fire to the ranger station when they were banned from fishing along the coast as the government was planning to build an MPA in that area. The good intentions of conservationists are regarded as unjust policies. To support this argument, the source which targets the problem with conservation is the book “Nature Crime: How We’re Getting Conservation Wrong” by Rosaleen Duffy. This draws on 15 years of research, 300 interviews with conservation professionals, local communities, tour operators and government officials. In her book, Duffy states “This is vital because failing to tackle such injustices damages wildlife conservation in the long run.” Her basic argument is that the approach to conservation is wrongly conducted by most conservationists which is why most local communities adapt the popular belief that conservation can bring zero economic benefits.

Rosaleen Duffy’s book is a valid source and her intellectual reasoning must be credited as she is a professor of international politics at Manchester University and a world expert on the ethical dimensions of wildlife conservation and management. This gives her an authority on research done in the area of wildlife conservation. She also evaluates the political and ethical perspective in her book while exploring the social impact of conservation methods as a whole. Supporting this perspective is also John Tanzer, the Director of the Global Marine Program at WWF International, who claims that after conducting interviews of fishermen, the overall response received was not all too well and many viewed the establishment of MPAs as a point of political battle.

The second perspective explores whether MPAs are as beneficial as conservationists claim they are bound to be. To support this claim we have …… which states …..

Economically, it can be observed that MPAs have been successful and will continue to be. The OECD points out that the cumulative economic impact of poor ocean management practices is estimated to be in the order of USD 200 billion per year which amounts to way more than that of running MPAs. Furthermore, since global studies on marine conservation are hard to conduct, Brander et al (2015) examined the net benefits of protecting marine habitats through expanding the coverage of no-take MPAs to 10% and 30% and find that the benefits exceed the costs, with ratios in the range of 3.17:19.77.

Furthermore, business companies in coastal areas are uniting with conservationists for the production of better fishing gear so that marine life is not threatened. Fishermen can be educated and prevented from overfishing or bans put up to not fish in the breeding season. Helping coral reefs become healthier and more resilient to climate change impacts. Working with partners we have trained nearly 500 local managers on coral reef resilience in more than 55 countries. In Papua New Guinea and Indonesia we are helping communities better manage and protect their marine resources and natural areas.  Developing tools to help communities plan for climate change impacts. With partners, we developed an interactive tool that helps decision-makers understand sea level rise and coastal storms, visualize the likely impacts and risks and identify options that minimize losses for natural and human coastal communities.  Demonstrating how natural solutions can protect communities from climate impacts. Hard engineering options, such as sea walls and flood barriers, are often costly to build and require considerable maintenance. There is increasing evidence that natural areas like mangroves and shellfish reefs can be solutions for slowing shoreline erosion and providing protection, while being economically efficient. We are developing initiatives to demonstrate how natural infrastructure solutions can be used alongside or in place of hard engineering responses.

 Thus, after reflecting upon both perspectives with logical reasoning, I have reached to a certain conclusion that differs from my view on MPAs before beginning this essay. As the evidence suggest, MPAs plan to do more good than bad in the long run. People may develop different views on the establishment of MPAs on economical, ethical, socio-economic and political basis but if managed properly with benefits for the everyone involved, MPAs can do a lot more good than they are deemed to do. However, the actual research gathered itself is mostly quantitative and discovered through secondary research methods, involving the view of either economists or conservationists hence there is room for bias, prejudice and imposition of personal values. Qualitative data can be wrongly interpreted or blurred by prejudice. I myself, held quite a negative view about MPAs mostly due to their ethicality but after all te evaluation, I firmly believe that MPAs can provide major benefits to not just the local communities but the global economies as well.

Is it ethical to focus on MPAs when human lives are at stake not just the homeless but those that are victims of climate change accidents like wildfires and stuff