Marine parks are failing to protect the world's coral reefs, according to a prominent New Zealand researcher, with fewer than two percent receiving adequate protection from these sanctuaries.
Many of the parks remain "vulnerable to risks that arise from beyond their boundaries, such as sedimentation, pollution, coastal development," said the University of Auckland's Mark Costello, who oversaw a study of the parks that appeared in Science magazine earlier this month.
"It's very disappointing that the management of most of the parks is not aimed at fully protecting the species there," Costello told The Associated Press. "They need to increase the level of protection in the parks."
Costello, whose team included researchers from Canada and the Britain, found that about 19 percent of the world's coral reefs lie within 980 marine parks — with only 1.6 percent of reefs in parks that limit human activities and only 0.1 percent that prohibit poaching.
Costello said some problems stem from a failure to follow-up the establishment of a park with "good management and enforcement." Money also played a role, Costello said, with developing countries such as the Philippines or Indonesia lacking the finances to provide adequate levels of protection.
"I think there is a responsibility on the global community to help these countries protect their biodiversity," he said.
The size of the parks was also a problem, he said.
Forty percent of the protected marine areas are smaller than a square mile — an insufficient size to protect large fish and other animals, Costello said. These animals tend to move large distances, spending significant time beyond the protected borders, he said.
Costello and his team recommended that marine parks be 6 miles to 12 miles in diameter to protect species that need large areas of habitat, and spaced to ensure genetic exchange between areas.
This would require the protection of nearly 10,000 square miles, or about 5 percent of the world's coral reefs, Costello said.
"Marine protected areas are the prime strategy for the conservation of coral reefs and other marine habitats worldwide," Costello said. When no poaching or fishing is allowed, more natural species flourish and fish and crayfish get bigger, he said.