Securing effective and equitable coverage of marine protected areas: The UK's progress towards achieving Convention on Biological Diversity commitments and lessons learned for the way forward
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Current international agreements call for protecting 10% of marine and coastal waters by 2020, with the intention of increasing that target to 30% by 2030. With 24% of its territorial waters protected, the UK falls short of the new expected target. As well as quantitative targets, qualitative criteria have been internationally agreed for protected area designation, including minimum coverage values and characteristics that encompass effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape. The legal framework supporting protected area designations at sea is summarized and explained for UK territorial waters. Efforts to date to achieve current marine protected area (MPA) targets are reviewed, with emphasis on how well the existing protected area portfolio captures the qualitative criteria. Examples are given of other effective conservation measures complementary to formalized MPAs, especially with regard to achieving and promoting qualitative criteria for biodiversity conservation, including appropriate recognition of and support for areas conserved by indigenous people, local communities and private entities. A precis on the governance of MPAs and other effective conservation measures in the UK and its overseas territories is presented. Whilst the UK has made exceptional progress with quantitative MPA coverage, it is still not clear whether designated areas offer effective protection. A UK-level strategy is in place to address this; and at site level, Lyme Bay MPA illustrates the benefits of addressing qualitative criteria. Illustrated by the UK example, an urgent call is made for ongoing and future marine in situ area-based conservation efforts to substantiate quantitative and qualitative considerations, and to ensure that MPA networks are ultimately fit for purpose.
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