Ocean Zoning: More Effective Marine Management

Management of marine resources remains our primary tool to counter the myriad challenges presented by the ocean today: the depletion of fisheries, pollution of coastal zones, conflicting uses within the coastal zones, demands for exploitation of deep sea resources for energy, mining, and pharmacological purposes. Add to that the impact of climate change – sea level rise, extreme weather, acidification, and much more – and the ocean environment demands a critical management response to mitigate, adapt, and invent revolutionary strategies to sustain its resources in space and in time.

Management strategies have been primarily local and hard earned. Coastal conservation efforts, marine protected areas, networks of marine protected areas, regional management schemes, and, most recently, experiments in “marine spatial planning” have served as an evolutionary, opportunistic response. But, clearly, these have not been enough.

In her new publication, Ocean Zoning – Making Marine Management More Effective (Earthscan, 2010), Dr. Tundi Agardy, Executive Director of Sound Seas, Director of the MARES Program at Forest Trends, and Science and Policy Director of the World Ocean Observatory, argues clearly and cogently for a paradigm shift: ocean zoning as an up-scaled, enhanced, and integrated system that “overcomes the shortcomings of small-scale protected areas; recognizes the relative ecological importance and environmental vulnerability of differing areas; allows harmonization with terrestrial land-use and coastal planning; better articulates private sector roles, responsibilities, and market opportunities; minimizes conflict between incompatible uses; and moves us away from fragmented sectoral efforts towards integrated and effective ecosystem-based management that fully includes all uses of, and impacts on, the oceans”

Dr. Agardy goes on to assert that zoning is simple, straightforward, systematic, and strategic and that it clarifies rights and creates shared management responsibilities. The parceling of the ocean into areas according to their human-use values is radical and certainly difficult in the face of vested interests, conventional thinking, and local, regional, national, and international politics, but it provides “a framework that can evolve out of existing use patterns and cooperative agreements toward meeting the larger goals of biodiversity conservation, conservation of rare and threatened species, maintenance of natural ecosystem functioning at a regional scale, and management of fisheries, recreation, education, and research in a more coordinated and complimentary fashion. The integrated approach inherent in zoning is a natural response to a complex set of ecological processes and environmental problems and is an efficient way to allocate scarce time and resources to combating the issues that parties deem to be most critical.”

Ocean zoning will be, no doubt, as controversial as it is frequently on land. But there are serious benefits to be earned through economies of scale, pro-rated costs, reconciliation of competing interests, and more effective conservation. Many encouraging experiments are already underway: at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia, in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, along the coasts of the European northeast Atlantic, and Africa. The need is there. We must adopt such radical tools if we are to meet the insistent challenges the ocean now presents, to reverse degradation and improve ocean health. We must put all such tools to use, realizing of course that they are only as good as the man or woman who wields them.