For 25 years, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, served as the world’s single truly large-scale marine conservation site, dwarfing the next largest sites in orders of magnitude that made comparisons difficult at best. Then in 2000, Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and World Heritage Site was established and large-scale MPAs stood poised to become an official genre of marine conservation. Across the next 14 years eight more vast MPAs came on line, with the scope and scale of large-scale sites increasing significantly in parallel with the needs of managers and national governing agencies.
Today, depending upon the criteria used, the total number of large-scale marine sites is hovering around 30. As such, Big Ocean holds steadfast to it original aim to be a peer-learning network that shares its lessons for the betterment of marine conservation and management globally.
Beyond the numerous ecological, economic and cultural benefits that large-scale MPAs provide, they are our greatest hope for achieving marine conservation goals such as the Convention on Biodiversity’s Aichi Target 11, which calls for at least 10% of marine and coastal areas to be conserved. The size of LSMPAs accentuates their inter-governmental and global significance; they can often affect international marine policies in ways that smaller scale MPAs cannot. The UN and other international groups are exploring the possibility of establishing MPAs on the high seas in areas beyond national jurisdiction, clearly signaling that large-scale marine conservation is of global importance.
The 17 current member sites of Big Ocean represent 10 countries and protect more than 11 million square kilometers of marine space or > 3% of the total global ocean. The sites range from the 146,000-km2 Argo-Rowley Terrace Commonwealth Marine Reserve (Australia) to the 1.9 million square kilometer Marae Moana marine park in the Cook Islands.
Creating a starting point
Though the past two decades have seen an increasing call for marine protection on a larger scale, there are limited examples of effective long-term governance and management models at scale to use as models. By combining and sharing lessons from both mature and recently established large-scale MPAs, Bg Ocean seeks to support managers to build and complement current resources to provide equitable and effective governance, as the foundation of their ongoing, best-practice management.
The field is still evolving
Because guidance for the design and management of LSMPAs is still in development, and the needs of existing sites are not necessarily consistent, the advice Big Ocean provides is constantly evolving. The future of the field requires adaptive management this is rarely, if ever, implemented in a linear fashion. Thus, the network strives to keep learning and improving upon the services and support it provides to members, partners, communities and the next generation of managers and ocean champions.