Two leading marine science and conservation organizations, the Marine Conservation Institute and Mission Blue, issued the 1st-ever quantitative, scientifically rigorous national ranking of states’ protection of their ocean waters. SeaStates: How Well Does Your State Protect Your Coastal Waters? shows that most states and territories are failing to safeguard our nation’s marine life, seafood and coasts.
Oceans are crucial to our health and economy. Coastal counties include only 5.71% of the area in the lower 48 states but generate 35.54% of the Gross Domestic Product. Indeed, coastal counties generate $7,992 more GDP per person than inland and Great Lakes counties.
“Despite so many threats to their health, states are failing to protect our ocean waters,” said Dr. Lance Morgan, President of the Marine Conservation Institute. “No-take marine protected areas are the gold-standard for healthy oceans, but far too few states and territories are designating them.”
SeaStates measures the percentage of state’s waters they strongly protect. Being free from fishing, oil drilling and other extractive uses allows marine life in no-take marine reserves to thrive and recover their former abundance. That’s crucial because marine animals and plants maintain healthy oceans essential to people.
As coastal areas face increasing overfishing and climate change, strong marine protected areas maintain biodiversity, fisheries and coastal economies. Dozens of studies show that no-take marine reserves provide more effective protection than weaker protected areas, often providing an overflow of marine life into surrounding waters. Many marine scientists recommend designating at least 20% of state waters as no-take areas as the best way to sustain ocean health.
“Whether you love our oceans for their beauty, for their fishes and marine mammals or for generating half of the oxygen we breathe, you should want them to be strongly protected. But most states in this report get a score of zero and only a handful are protecting even 1%. That’s not good enough when our oceans are facing grave threats like overfishing and pollution. America’s oceans and people deserve better,” said eminent marine biologist and President of Mission Blue, Dr. Sylvia Earle. “The United States has a long way to go if we want to be a world-leader in marine conservation.”
SeaStates shows that 15 coastal states (AL, AK, CT, DE, GA, LA, MD, MA, MS, NH, NJ, NY, RI, SC, TX) out of 23 have no (zero) no-take areas. Six states (FL, OR, WA, NC, VA, and ME) have designated barely 1% or much less of their coastal waters as no-take areas. Only 2 states strongly protect over 5% of their waters in no-take reserves. Hawaii ranks 1st for ocean protection with 22.9% fully protected (most inside the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument), while California ranks 2nd with 8.7%.
“SeaStates shows that very few places are getting the protection they need” said Dr. Morgan “and most states are doing a very poor job of safeguarding your oceans. It’s time for that to change. Seabirds, whales, groupers and deep sea corals all need refuges where we do everything possible to protect them.”
The science team at Marine Conservation Institute compiled SeaStates using MPAtlas.org, the world’s best information source on marine protected areas.
Click here to read the full report.Photo courtesy of NOAA by Robert Schwemmer