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Analysis | Taking closer look at MPAs, scientists renew debate on how best to design & site them

IN AN APPARENT coup for conservation, Brazil recently created two massive marine protected areas (MPAs) totaling more than 900,000 square km (almost 350,000 square miles), upping the country’s protected waters from 1.5 percent to nearly 25 percent. Upon closer inspection, however, it’s clear that these new MPAs will actually allow a variety of activities – including commercial and recreational fishing, mining and oil and gas exploration – in all but a small portion of the habitats they contain. And some scientists argue that the protections these designations provide are simply misplaced, because, they say, while remote, deep-ocean MPAs help countries meet conservation targets, they may not do enough to protect vulnerable biodiversity.

Brazil’s recent announcement, the latest in a string of similar high-profile ocean conservation initiatives over the past decade, has rekindled an ongoing debate among scientists and conservationists about how best to design marine parks and where to place them. The question is particularly pressing now, because 196 countries (excluding the United States) have committed to conserving 10 percent of their waters – “especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services” – under the U.N. Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, and the 2020 deadline to meet this target is looming.


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