Charting a new course for marine conservation: Spain establishes seven new marine protected areas
In a landmark decision, Spain has taken a significant step towards preserving its rich marine biodiversity by declaring seven new marine protected areas (MPAs) under the Natura 2000 network.
The Natura 2000 Network is a network of natural areas in Europe that promotes the protection of wild and semi-natural species and habitats while allowing for human activity. It aims to maintain a good conservation status for habitats and species of Community interest. This network is also the world’s most extensive network of protected areas.
The newly declared areas together account for a surface of more than 9.3 million hectares and would represent an increase of 8.7% of the Spanish marine protected area. These areas will contribute to the European Union’s goal of protecting at least 30% of its waters by 2030, as outlined in the EU Biodiversity Strategy. This move reflects a growing global recognition of the importance of safeguarding the seas and ocean while preserving the invaluable benefits they provide.
The importance of Marine Protected Areas
Marine protected areas are designated regions where human activities are regulated to conserve and protect the marine environment. These areas play a crucial role in sustaining the health of our ocean and ensuring the well-being of both marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them.
First of all, they serve as safe havens for a wide range of marine species, providing them with a protected space for feeding, migration and reproduction.
On the other hand, from an environmental point of view, MPAs play a crucial role in climate change mitigation. Healthy marine ecosystems, such as reefs and seagrass meadows, preserved in MPAs, contribute crucially to climate change mitigation through carbon sequestration.
In terms of sustainable fisheries management, MPAs regulate fishing activities within their boundaries, thus ensuring fish stocks’ long-term viability. This approach not only benefits marine populations, but also has a positive impact on local economies by preserving fisheries as a sustainable resource and ensuring food security globally.
In addition, marine protected areas also bring benefits to local economies, as well-managed marine protected areas can attract ecotourism, providing economic opportunities for local communities. Snorkeling, scuba diving and wildlife watching are popular activities that generate revenue while raising awareness of marine conservation.
The newly established protected areas in Spain
The proposal includes six new SCI (Site of Community Importance) areas, the newly proclaimed SPA (Special Protection Areas for Birds) and the extension of the SPAs located on the Galician and western Cantabrian coasts to form a single new SPA area, to be called ‘Western Galician-Cantabrian Migratory Corridor’.
Such areas present vulnerable habitats and species which are included in the Habitat Directive, such as reefs, submarine structures made by leaking gases, sandbanks and submerged or partially submerged sea caves, as well as the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) and the loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). In terms of birds, the newly declared SACs will protect more than 30 species, which include also the following marine species: razorbill (Alca torda), Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris borealis), Mediterranean gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus), common tern (Sterna hirundo), little tern (Sternula albifrons), sandwich tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis), Scopoli’s shearwater (Calonectris diomedea), Aoduiin gull (Larus audouiini) and the Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus).
A beacon of hope
Spain’s establishment of new marine protected areas underscores the global imperative to prioritise marine conservation. As we celebrate this positive step, other nations need to follow suit and collectively work towards safeguarding the ocean. By recognising the interconnectedness of marine ecosystems and the well-being of human societies, we can ensure a sustainable future for our blue planet.
However, it is crucial to remain vigilant and address the potential pitfall of newly designed marine protected areas becoming mere “paper parks.” This term refers to areas that, despite being designated as protected on paper, lack effective enforcement and management to ensure genuine conservation efforts.
To truly safeguard our ocean, it is imperative that these areas are not only established but also actively managed and enforced, implementing comprehensive conservation strategies to safeguard biodiversity, ecosystems, and the valuable resources they harbour.
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