Contributed by Amanda Wrona Meadows – TNC

Mapping Ocean Wealth’s science, conservation and policy staff gathered in Sydney, Australia to attend the World Parks Congress, a once-a-decade global forum on protected areas that drew more than 6,000 delegates from 170 countries.

Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist for TNC’s Global Marine Programs, represented the Mapping Ocean Wealth project. “I want to know – are national parks and nature reserves doing a good enough job of protecting nature’s services for people, including providing the natural barriers to storms, providing fish production, and supporting tourism and recreation industries that support livelihoods and coastal economies?” asked Mark Spalding.

Prior to the meeting in Sydney, Spalding and his colleagues compiled data looking at coral reefs and mangrove forests and developed a discussion paper. “We started with five global maps focused on tourism, coastal protection and fisheries from coral reefs; and carbon stocks and fisheries from mangrove forests”, explained Spalding. “Then we applied a simple overlay of maps and asked how many of these services are contained in the world’s protected areas.”

The answers appear to be mixed. Mangrove forests are “fish factories” that support fishing jobs and food security for many coastal communities. Globally, 36 percent of mangroves are in protected areas, but a much lower percentage of their fisheries values fall in these sites. Indonesia, for example, has 20 percent of its mangroves in protected areas, but only 10 percent of its fisheries production value is protected. These numbers are similar for nearby countries, and East and Southeast Asia overall. By contrast, tourism values the world over, are generally well protected. In Australia, the iconic Great Barrier Reef Marine Park helps to provide major economic dollars into the economy where tourism is a major national industry. While 83 percent of all Australia’s coral reefs are in protected areas, an estimated 91 percent of the tourism income from coral reefs is derived from sites in protected areas.

With the results from new research in hand and coming away from the Congress, Spalding feels that TNC is on the right track forward for ocean conservation. “The need is clear and urgent”, said Spalding. “We can’t wait ten years until the next World Parks Congress. We need to fill these important gaps and ensure that protected areas are indeed protecting the services people need.”

A summary of The Nature Conservancy’s work at World Parks Congress is available here.