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UNEP launches online tool for marine area protection

24 June 2009

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The online system is the latest decision-making tool to provide the most current and relevant information about marine and coastal biodiversity and its protection status.

Cambridge:  At a time when the world's oceans are facing unprecedented pressures from human impacts in the marine environment, a new decision-making tool is being launched to provide the most current and relevant information about marine and coastal biodiversity and its protection status.

UNEP launches marine area protection tool
Image credits: UNEP / The new online system will view and study the world's marine protected areas.

This marine protected areas tool (, created by the United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is part of the recently redeveloped World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA) – the authoritative and most globally comprehensive list of marine and terrestrial protected areas.

"Marine protected areas are critical to the future of the oceans and they will ensure that the ecosystem services on which millions of people around the world rely for their livelihoods and existence will be maintained," explained Kristian Teleki, Head of the One Ocean Programme and Director of the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) at UNEP-WCMC.

"Without Marine Protected Areas and the efforts of governments, conservation organisations and communities around the world to manage and conserve the marine environment, the future of the oceans and the diversity of life contained within them will be jeopardized."

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are locations which receive protection because of their environmental, scenic or socio-economic value. Although some countries have marine protected areas, these vary considerably in size and designation from country to country, depending on national needs and priorities, and on differences in legislative, institutional and financial support.

MPAs cover different marine and coastal environments from shallow coastal waters to the deepest sea, from polar oceans to tropical seas and often span national boundaries. When combined with other conservation measures such as spatial planning and ecosystem-based management, these areas can be very effective.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: "Currently somewhere around 12 per cent of the land is held in protected areas, but less than one per cent of the marine environment has been given such status - so this needs to change, and to change fast too. It is our hope that the WDPA-Marine will help nations redress this imbalance and that in the next decade we will have achieved significant progress in protecting the seas through MPAs."

The WDPA-Marine serves as the data source for the marine protected area layer of Google Ocean through UNEP-WCMC's partnership with IUCN and the marine theme of IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

"Obtaining and promoting accurate information on marine protected areas is a top priority. I am therefore delighted on World Oceans Day that we are launching WDPA – Marine as another critical tool alongside Protect Planet Ocean and Google Ocean to show the world how much of our seas are protected," said Dan Laffoley, Chair of IUCN's WCPA – Marine. "These new innovative approaches show everyone the urgent need for governments and all of us to radically scale up MPA networks as well as the ambition and effectiveness by which we manage marine resources."

As one of the foremost repositories of information on marine protected areas, WDPA-Marine is intended to help managers and decision makers to better understand the nature of the marine environment where human activity is regulated or restricted in order to maintain the integrity and biodiversity of the ecosystem. It is the culmination of contributions from many governments, regional partnerships, NGOs, and academicians who have participated greatly in the development and improved quality and quantity of MPA data over the past decades.

This new system allows users to view information on marine protected areas in their web browser, to visualise them in Google Earth, to download data, to bring together other important data like species and ecosystem information into the same portal and more.

The WDPA-Marine "has been designed with marine protected area practitioners, stakeholders and policy makers within conservation organisations, governments, UN agencies and multinational environmental agreements in mind," Teleki said.

UNEP-WCMC Director Jon Hutton added, "The most important element of this project is that it allows the "repatriation" of critically important biodiversity information to coastal nations which may not have their own systems. I look forward to working with many of them as they develop their capacity based around this data, which is being made freely available for the first time."

The WDPA-Marine comes as nations, communities and people around the globe mark World Oceans Day - a day designated by the United Nations to raise awareness of the current challenges faced by the international community in connection with the oceans and to seek solutions such as those offered through the establishment of marine protected areas.

Source : UNEP

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