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Portugal Establish Four Marine Protected Areas


PORTUGAL - The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has praised Portuguese authorities for announcing the establishment of four marine protected areas on the extended continental shelves of the Azores as well as mainland Portugal.

The four sites – on the southern Mid Atlantic Ridge, Altair Seamount, Antialtair Seamount and Josephine Bank - together cover an area of 120,000 square km rich in vulnerable deepwater communities, including cold-water coral reefs, sponge fields, coral gardens, and deep sea bony fish, sharks and rays.

The announcement of marine protected area status was made at an international North Atlantic environmental commission (OSPAR Convention) meeting attended by UN fisheries and seabed agencies in Funchal, Madeira. It follows three of the four sites being declared being declared off limits to the use of destructive bottom fishing gear just under a year ago.

“This is ground breaking progress on ocean governance”, says Stephan Lutter, International Marine Policy Officer with WWF Germany.

“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.”

All four of the new marine protected areas will be unique in legal terms, with the coastal state in charge of protecting the natural resources of the seafloor, and international bodies to protect marine biological diversity in the corresponding High Seas waters.

This new legal arrangement opens up possibilities of improving protection to the first pilot marine protected area in international waters of the North Atlantic, the so-called "Charlie-Gibbs Fracture Zone" located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge which was agreed by contracting parties to the OSPAR Convention on the in 2008.

“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,” said Mr Lutter.

“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.”

WWF is now confident that the upcoming Ministerial Meeting of North-East Atlantic Coastal States under the OSPAR Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment, to be held in Bergen, Norway from 20-24 September 2010, will be able to proclaim the world's first network of marine protected areas on the High Seas, consisting of six sites.