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NEW YORK (February 21, 2020) – An international study published today in the journal One Earth found that at least 26 percent of the ocean requires conservation attention in order to preserve Earth’s marine biodiversity.

The study found that conserving a portion of habitat for all marine species would require an additional 8.5 million km2 (3.2M square miles – an area about the size of Brazil) of new conservation areas (2.5 percent of total ocean area), when combined with existing protected areas and wildernesses.

“The international community needs to rapidly increase the scale of marine conservation efforts if we are to maintain the health of our oceans,” said lead author Dr. Kendall Jones of WCS’s Conservation Solutions Program. “One third of all marine species currently have less than 10 percent of their range protected. Conserving the areas we identified would give all marine species a reasonable amount of space to live free from human impacts like fishing, commercial shipping or pesticide runoff.”

The authors used maps showing where over 22,000 marine species occur throughout Earth’s oceans, and applied a mathematical approach to identify the minimum area required to capture a portion of each species range.

They found that the total area of the realm required for conservation varied from 26 percent to 41 percent, depending on the amount of each species range included. Key regions for conservation action included the Northern Pacific Ocean near China and Japan, and the Atlantic between West Africa and the Americas.

Professor James Watson of the University of Queensland and Director of Science at the Wildlife Conservation Society, and senior author of the paper, said the findings provide crucial evidence demonstrating the need for large increases in conservation efforts worldwide.

Said Watson: “This year the world’s nations will be coming together in for the UN Biodiversity Conference in Kunming, China to sign an agreement that will guide global conservation action for the next 10 years. This science shows that nations need to act boldly, as they did for the Paris climate agreement.”

Next week, the second meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will convene to advance preparations for the development of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. The negotiating process will culminate in the adoption of a post-2020 global biodiversity framework by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, at the UN Biodiversity Conference. 

Professor Watson also said it is crucial that global conservation strategies involve rapid action to secure endangered species and ecosystems, combined with approaches to sustainably manage the ocean in its entirety.

“This isn’t just about strict marine protected areas. We need to use a range of strategies, from no-fishing zones, to community marine reserves, through to broad-scale policies like commercial fishing regulations,” he said.

The authors stressed that ocean conservation efforts are important for people as well as biodiversity.

“Millions of people around the world depend on marine biodiversity as a crucial source of food and income. A well designed global conservation agreement will help preserve these livelihoods into the future.”