Mark J. Spalding, President
Tuesday, March 26, 2019

10th Monaco Blue Initiative
Oceanographic Museum of Monaco
25 March 2019

Session #1 How can we - collectively - continue developing MPAs whilst ensuring their efficiency?

Remarks by Mark J. Spalding, President of The Ocean Foundation


Defining MPAs for Effective Conservation

We can (and should) get into the formal definitions of different types of MPAs, and levels of protection. Some are already defined by IUCN and others, and one can integrate their criteria into the designation of an MPA. At the same time, I feel that unless and until there is effective (not pseudo) conservation in the objectives for our MPAs, we may be fooling ourselves about their real value to current and future generations. If we have a place or ocean space that a nation, or multiple nations, suggests is worthy of protection, we have to ask ourselves what are we doing to ensure it will exist in the future, and that its ecosystem services will remain in place? 

In MPAs, as with fisheries, we manage human actions in relationship to ecosystems (and ecosystem services); we protect ecosystems (or not), we do NOT and cannot manage nature or natural processes. Thus, to me:

  • MPAs should not be about single (commercial) species
  • MPAs should not be solely about managing a single activity

Beyond defining what levels of protection we are hoping to have, such protection must mean reducing multiple and cumulating anthropogenic pressures so as to maintain the integrity and functioning of the systems within the MPA, and likely a buffer zone around it. This must include avoiding pollution, prohibiting development in the MPA, onshore or nearby, and may mean that any damage or exploitation will be off the table in part because there are so many external change factors we can anticipate and so many more consequences we cannot. 

We are not making enough progress

Over the last 10 years, my impression is that we have seen an increase in success in designating MPAs, and a serious momentum toward their acceptance as a successful conservation and/or biomass restoration tool, and as a successful tool to protect a public resource for future generations (but for climate disruption1). And yet, it appears to me there is not enough momentum to be able to meet the various targets in a timely enough fashion (whether it is 10%2 or 20% or 30%3 or more of the global ocean that we are seeking). 

More importantly, I am not as confident about how many have management plans and are effectively enforced (which will also affect meeting our targets for protection). It would be nice to know that by 2030, 100% of MPAs had management plans in place that prioritized conservation of ecosystem function, that 80% of MPA waters had some level of enforcement, technological or otherwise, and that we had assured integrated, interconnected corridors with additional MPAs to support species migration, both historic, and shifts due to changes in temperature, salinity, or chemistry of the water.

Obviously, we need the MPAs we have to be effective. This means moving them through Jane Lubchenco’s MPA Guide stages from announcement and all the way to fully protected (effectiveness). This requires political will to create MPAs, which is probably the easy step in hindsight, and then to fund MPA management and enforcement over time. Perhaps most important is supporting the political will to stand behind that enforcement because it needs to be credible, transparent and evenly applied. We and our politicians know what needs to be done, but the politicians need to know how they can be re-elected if they do it.

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President Mark J. Spalding in Monaco, site of the Monaco Blue Initiative

One way to do this is to ensure enough people know that MPAs are assets to economic development when they are well-designed and managed. I am confident they are assets whenever they are effective—and we do need to provide defensible reference points for those leaders willing to make the commitment. Truly effective means management has to respond to changing conditions or emerging threats; and be willing to “just say no” to exploitation in the short term to support economic well-being in the long term.

Good governance should be designed to seek outcomes in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Application of the precautionary principle,4 especially in light of the upcoming new knowledge to be delivered from the UN Decade of Ocean Science from which we may soon gain additional information to inform decision-making. 
The high seas make up half the world’s surface area. It turns out that the sea mounts and other habitats support diverse and unique species, and like the Sargasso Sea, support migratory species that move from one nation’s waters to another: Eels, sea turtles, marlins, birds, and whales to name a few. Being precautionary and being flexible has meant recognition that the areas beyond any country’s boundaries are not only our global common heritage and legacy, but also require their own systems of protections. 

So, let’s get the protective “Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions” (or BBNJ) legal instrument done—the progress so far indicates a global, common view that we share responsibility for their precautionary management. Meanwhile, we must continue to establish, expand and make effective our national MPAs, and think in terms of well-designed, flexible networks of MPAs that can support seasonal relatively short migrations and the long lifecycle voyages of highly pelagic species.

Fulfilling the public trust doctrine through MPAs

Marine Protected Areas can be designed in many ways, but fundamentally MPAs are ocean places that belong to all and are held in the hands of our governments as a public trust so that common spaces and common resources are protected for all, and for future generations. 
We lawyers refer to this as the “public trust doctrine.”
This is part of what is at stake in the BBNJ legal instrument negotiations. Too little of the world’s ocean is protected, and this is especially true of the part that is in the high seas.
We need to focus on what happens once we have an MPA in place. How do we make sure that MPAs succeed? 
How do we make sure the MPAs protect habitat and ecological processes, even when those processes and life support systems are not fully understood? 
When we know our disruption of the climate is going to shift ecosystems and disrupt processes, but without high levels of certainty about how to predict the results how do we protect ecological processes?
How do we ensure that there is sufficient state capacity, political will, surveillance technologies and financial resources available to enforce MPA restrictions? How do we ensure sufficient monitoring to allow us to revisit management plans?
To go along with these obvious questions, we also need to ask:

Do we have this legal doctrine of the public trust in mind when we create MPAs? Are we thinking of all people? Remembering that these places are common heritage of all mankind? Are we thinking of future generations? Are we thinking about whether these MPAs are being fairly shared? None of this is private property, nor should it be. We cannot anticipate all future needs, but we can know that our collective estate will be more valuable if we do not exploit it with short-sighted greed. We need governments to be responsible for these spaces on behalf of present and future generations. 

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Mark J. Spalding speaking on a panel in Monaco.

It is time to reassert the public trust. It must be each of our governments and all governments that are exercising our trust obligations to protect natural resources via MPAs for us, for our communities, and for future generations.
It is also time to shift the burden of proof. For example, as recently suggested by José María Figueres, the High Seas and the waters of Antarctic should be MPAs in their entirety. Thus, any contrary uses will need to carry the burden of proof as to why such uses are more critical than the conservation role the High Seas and the Antarctic play now. It was not that long ago that these places were de facto MPAs because they were too far away, too difficult to exploit. There are few high seas fisheries—infamous for being about exploitative of humans and fish alike. Worse, they are not helping meet any of the UN Sustainable Development Goals relating to the ocean, to food security, or to viable employment. For the most part, high seas fisheries are all about providing luxury products for the wealthiest nations.

Sustainable financing for MPAs

There are studies that demonstrate that no MPA will ever be 100% self-financing in part because of the need for vigilance to protect their successful functioning. Yet, just as some governments subsidize the building of factories or the distance fishing fleets in perpetuity to ensure jobs in certain places, MPAs can easily be seen as being of greater value and thus worthy of subsidy.
In fact, perhaps subsidizing MPAs would not only be more legal (than fishing subsidies), it would be a better return for each country and improve food security. Jobs are created in the monitoring, enforcement, and restoration of MPA ecosystems. And, if we are certain of how good MPAs will be for the planet and for people, we can get at such a subsidy as a way forward to a fair transition if fishers and other users are closed out when an MPA is created.

Simply stated: 

As public waters, our MPAs should be sufficiently funded with public funds to accomplish what they were established to do—just as our national terrestrial refuges require the same—in recognition of the same public trust principles I discussed earlier. Only governments have the framework to plan beyond this generation and the next, to truly protect heritage and create abiding legacy.
Yet, as we have seen, all of the ways in which government revenue has been curtailed for limited public benefit (e.g. tax cuts, debt restructuring, austerity plans, and so on) result in unsustainable financing for MPAs. This lack of revenue undermines key public services that are an appropriate role for a national government including safeguarding those natural resources that support all life, including humans.
Thus, we have a pitiful lack of government investment in protecting and managing MPAs, and it’s not just about immediate concerns about the budgets being too small and the staff being too few. It’s also about the loss of opportunities to adapt technology to make enforcement easier. It’s about the erosion of our marine legacy when exploitation wins out over sustainability. 
This shortage of committed government support and investment is, in part, a result of philanthropy’s success in providing alternatives in the short-term and creates the perception of relieving governments from having to provide sufficient funding.

The same is true of non-government organizations that work with multi-lateral lenders to develop creative fundraising opportunities whereby private wealth chooses which public needs to fill and where. The generosity of donors to support short-term needs is so appreciated—and helps generate the short-term momentum to establish MPAs. Such donations also provide the support for civil society to weigh in on designing those MPAs for the common good. At the same time, the building of long-term political will to defend and maintain public resources is a long-term investment and cannot rely on the charitable structures of a few nations over generations.

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The panel including TOF President, Mark J. Spalding.

Sometimes, and unfortunately, it is in MPA managers’ interest to say, “we have insufficient governmental funding,” and demonstrate this by not being able to respond to activities that cause valued resources to be diminished. And it may even generate a short-term positive political response with funds. However, most MPA managers are usually too dedicated to the task at hand to allow this to happen and end up finding partners to help do the right thing. 

Where private philanthropy and public institutions can and should work together, is in training present and future managers as some programs have successfully done for one generation. For the most part, the training of MPA managers is not focused on this sort of “development”, that is to say seeking funding from their own governments or from other sources.

MPA managers are not taught to build strong constituencies based on the deep place-attachment many possess for MPAs or engage them in supportive advocacy.
Many managers remain woefully unskilled in this arena, which, as you know, is something that takes years to develop the skills and abilities needed to be successful—and works to support the MPA. Such training combined with good on-site management training and sufficient funds can lay the groundwork whereby we can, perhaps, develop a global SDG 14 report card—one in which MPA funding is heavily weighted. 

At the end of the day, those of us who feel responsible to future generations have to see our global ocean as proximate and protectable. We have to recognize that supporting the long-term health of MPA networks in our EEZs is supporting the long-term health of our national interests. We have to recognize that the global ocean is changing faster than we know, in ways we can only partially understand, and as such, protecting the high seas and the biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions is paramount.

We know that the most vulnerable communities and poorest nations stand to benefit most from shared, precautionary management of our natural resources. We know that we share a responsibility to maintain the ocean’s capacity to absorb our bad behaviors and produce our oxygen, as well as our food. This is particularly true of the people in this room and all those who are fully aware that we need to steer the human relationship with the ocean for her good and our collective good. And that includes well-framed, well-enforced, and well-funded marine protected areas around the world.


1 You get more biomass (more fish) if you create a no-take area, but you cannot stop ocean warming, and we do not yet know if protecting areas for decades will help them adapt in decades because we don’t have decades of data!
2 Aichi targets
3 2018 IUCN recommendation
4 The Precautionary Principle requires that we take preventive action in the face of uncertainty; shift the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; explore a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and increase public participation in decision making.