One percent of the global ocean is closed to fishing. Is that a good thing?
Only 2 percent of the ocean is currently covered by some sort of MPA. (In contrast, 12 percent of the world's land is protected in national-park systems and wildlife preserves.) And only half of that 2 percent—a mere 1 percent of the ocean—is classified as "no-take," or completely closed to fishing and other extractive activity.
The international conservation community has long heralded the role of MPAs in protecting ocean resources. But amid growing concern over how to save the seas from overfishing, acidification, and "dead zones," ecologists and economists are beginning to ask a fundamental question: Are these special conservation zones actually achieving anything?
Such queries are especially important in light of news that Palau, a small island nation in Micronesia, intends to turn its entire territory into one giant marine reserve. Commercial fishing would be banned from Palau's coasts to the outer reaches of its Exclusive Economic Zone—in sum, an area of about 230,000 square miles. Palau, it seems, has decided that attracting more tourists and scuba divers is worth shunning the commercial fishing industry.