The African nation of Gabon has announced the creation of the continent’s largest network of marine protected areas, covering 20,500 square miles.
According to a report in National Geographic, the 20 marine parks and aquatic reserves will protect more than a quarter of the territorial seas along the Atlantic coast of the central African country. The largest protected area, 10,425 square miles, extends protection from Gabon’s existing Mayumba National Park to its 200-mile territorial limit.
The plans also provide for sustainable fisheries management for West Africa to combat overfishing. “West Africa is an area which has incredibly rich oceans, but it is being bled dry by international fishing fleets,” according to University of York marine biologist Callum Roberts, who is part of an international team that published a paper this week suggesting that setting aside large marine reserves is critically important to helping adapt to climate change. Such protected areas offset global warming’s worst effects by sequestering atmospheric carbon dioxide and boosting ecosystem adaptation.
“Marine reserves are insurance because they boost stocks of fish and improve the condition of habitats, increasing the coping capacity of the oceans to stress and damage unleashed by climate change,” said Roberts.
Climate Central reports that the world is likely to miss the United Nations Sustainable Development goal of protecting 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020, with only about 3.5 percent of the seas having received some level of protection by 2015.