With ocean ecosystems under increasing strain, a two-fold strategy of ensuring precautionary approaches and sustainable management and a simultaneous significant expansion of marine protected areas (MPAs) will be essential. Support is anticipated for a growing movement to protect at least 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030. That is an ambitious target, and will require substantial engagement by all ocean-based industries (particularly the seafood industry) to ensure that the designation of such areas is scientifically rigorous, protections apply across sectors (and the associated sectoral bodies), and that appropriate monitoring and control measures are in place. The science associated with MPAs speaks most clearly to the seafood industry, identifying many instances in which MPAs have resulted in the restoration of fish populations as well as increased yields (spillover) beyond the boundaries of the MPA. One recent study noted that a 5 per cent increase in the MPA network could improve future catch by 20 per cent or more.14 With less than 3 per cent of the ocean classified as “fully or highly” protected today, an increase to 30 per cent will require substantial additional research and collaboration to understand both these spillover effects as well as management and equity implications associated with the displacement of fishers or fishing effort when MPAs are designated.
Aquaculture is a pillar of global food systems, but industrial production to date has focused primarily on a small handful of species, often produced in monocultures. Tremendous carbon mitigation benefits are associated with the dietary shifts to replace terrestrial animal protein with more ocean-based protein — the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, for instance, concluded that this could result in reductions of up to 1.24 gigatons of CO2 equivalent by 2050.15 Advances in the use of integrated multi-trophic aquaculture and seaweed production can reduce the environmental load of intensive single-species aquaculture, and result in substantial co-benefits. Efforts to bring them into closer balance with the oceans are in place across the globe, and so far results have shown that aquaculture can not only provide sustainable food and employment, but also restore and enhance the ocean ecosystems they exploit.16
Corals must be another focus. The combination of warming oceans and CO2-fuelled acidification of the waters has meant half of the world’s reefs have already been lost.17 Although this is a hugely troubling statistic, scientists are engaged in a wide range of conservation efforts worldwide, with some grounds for optimism.18