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Needed: Underwater ‘national parks’

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Scientists often cite Australia’s 1,200-mile-long Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, established in 1975, as the best example of a large, well-managed MPA. Although closures for military and other uses created de facto MPAs earlier, the US’s first national marine sanctuary was established in 1975 around the remains of a sunken Civil War-era ship, the USS Monitor, off North Carolina’s coast. That was just over 100 years after the first US national park was established. Today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration oversees 13 such MPAs.

About 13 percent of Earth’s land is protected, up from 3 percent in 1962. But less than 1 percent of the world’s seas enjoy protection of any kind, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a nonprofit environmental group. Only a tiny fraction – 0.05 percent – is completely off limits to fishing. The IUCN estimates that, as on land, between 20 and 30 percent of the sea should be set aside to preserve marine ecosystems. International organizations, including IUCN, the G-8 Group of Nations, and the Convention on Biological Diversity, have called for the establishment of a worldwide MPA network representing the entire range of marine ecosystems by 2012, a goal many consider noble if not entirely realistic.

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