This week Portugal announced at the OSPAR Convention that they are establishing four marine protected areas, creating unique legal protection. OSPAR, started at the 1972 with the Oslo Convention against dumping, is a mechanism for fifteen Governments on the western coasts and catchments of Europe to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic. Portugal’s marine protected areas are the southern Mid Atlantic Ridge, Altair Seamount, Antialtair Seamount and Josephine Bank along their Azores continental shelves and mainland Portugal. In total they cover 120,000 square km of cold-water coral reefs, sponge fields, coral gardens, and deep sea bony fish, sharks and rays.
“This is ground breaking progress on ocean governance. It comes at a time when the political and economic boundaries in our oceans are shifting. We would wish that all Coastal States who have submitted claims for an extended continental shelf beyond the limit of 200 nautical miles were taking their obligation to protect the marine wildlife out there as seriously as Portugal.” — Stephan Lutter, International Marine Policy Officer with WWF Germany
Portugal will be in charge of protecting the natural resources of the seafloor while international agencies will be responsible for protecting the biological diversity of corresponding waters. The legal implications of Portugal’s announcement include the option to integrate marine protection between nations, namely with the the Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone along the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
“These joint mechanisms of protection should be feasible in the largest proposed High Seas marine protected area, the pilot protected 313,000 square km ‘Charlie-Gibbs’ marine area, where Iceland claims part of the seafloor under its sovereignty. The legal provisions and management tools for such a mixed protection regime are there. The majority of threatened species, habitats and dwindling fish stocks occurs in international waters of our blue planet. There is no excuse for not taking conservation action.” – Stephan Lutter