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The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: A Snapshot of Marine Conservation in 2020

The turn of the decade has come and gone with many unexpected losses and challenges. Heightened racial tensions, some of the worst wildfires in decades, and COVID-19 didn’t quite make the year for which we were all hoping. In the midst of this, 2020 has also seen consequential outcomes for ocean protection. To recognize a few of the main players in marine conservation this year, we bring you our list of MPA superlatives: a two-part exploration of the ocean’s biggest losses and wins of 2020!

Most Improved: Seychelles

Seychelles, famous for its beautiful turquoise waters, recently expanded its marine protected area network on March 26, 2020, securing protection for 30% of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). This is a remarkable feat considering that just eight years ago, only 0.04 % of Seychelles’ marine territory was included in its MPA network.

Seychelles hosts a rich array of biodiversity and sensitive species and ecosystems, including giant turtles, sharks, and delicate coral reefs. Safeguarding this area is important, not only to the flora and fauna that live here, but also to the archipelago’s economic well-being. With the entire terrestrial land of Seychelles’ 115 islands totaling only 460 square kilometers, the marine ecosystem is the foundation on which the Seychelles’ economy is built.

Road to Conservation

The creation of an MPA network was facilitated by a “debt-for-nature” deal proposed by the U.S.-based non-profits The Nature Conservancy and The Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, allowing Seychelles to free up $21.6 million of national debt in exchange for the implementation of more effective marine protections and climate change mitigation measures. This created an opportunity for the government to designate 210,000 square kilometers of marine area as MPAs by 2018, and another 200,000 square kilometers in March of this year.

Though this new area of ocean has been formally designated and is well on its way to being implemented, protections on the water won’t be enacted until that point of implementation. Of the 400,000 square kilometer MPA network, 15% (Zone 1) will be a fully protected no-take zone, banning all extractive activities like commercial fishing and mining. The other 15% (Zone 2) will prohibit industrial activities while allowing regulated economic activities like subsistence and artisanal fishing to continue. While designation is an important first step in safeguarding the important habitats and endangered species of Seychelles, extensive planning is necessary for effective conservation. Down the line, we look forward to tracking their continued efforts to secure permanent protection for this rich ecosystem.

Most Likely to Succeed: Piedra del Viento

Along the central coast of Chile, a remote section of coastline in the O’Higgins region is home to endemic species, unique cultural practices, and great surf. On a mission to protect this treasured seascape, in August 2020, locals celebrated a milestone victory – the regional government approved their proposed marine protected area, Piedra del Viento Marine Sanctuary, which will fill an important gap to safeguard the area’s unique and cherished wildlife. 

A Hidden Gem

Piedra del Viento hosts a rich variety of biodiversity including the endemic setotus crabs, the rare Chilean flamingo, and endangered Southern right whales. But what makes this MPA especially unique is its significance to the local community. For hundreds of years, the Puertecillo and Topocalma beaches have been sites of artisanal fishing and the cultural practice of algae collecting, earning the locals the name algueros or “algae gatherers.” Furthermore, this area is home to exceptional surfing conditions, including a long sand bottom left point break, which has fostered a surfing-oriented community.

Culture and Conservation Threats

These communities joined together in protest of real estate development projects in Hacienda Topocalma that began in 2014. The privatization of historic roads blocked public access to these shores for four years, while the urbanization of this area threatened important habitats through pollution and destruction of local ecosystems. In collaboration with local fishers, surfers, and local businesses, the Chilean-based non-profit Fundación Rompientes successfully campaigned to regain access to the sea and establish the Piedro del Viento Marine Sanctuary.

Blue Sparks Program

Building on the momentum of these local efforts, Piedro del Viento has been named one of the very first Blue Sparks at Marine Conservation Institute. We have teamed up with Fundación Rompientes to help guide the implementation of this new MPA using Blue Park criteria as a blueprint for management planning. The collaboration of the local community, NGOs, and the Blue Parks team is a promising framework that will help ensure strong and effective protection of wildlife and cultural heritage for years to come.

As we step into the next decade, we look forward to a new year filled with record-breaking good news for the ocean. Missed the first part of our MPA superlatives series? Read it here.