Last year, after all, only two percent of the oceans were covered by what’s called a “marine protected area,” or MPA. A big part of the jump from two percent to 3.4 percent was the decision by New Caledonia to designate an area three times the size of Germany as a protected area. And although only one percent may be fully protected, Lubchenco said, “a decade ago that was .1 percent.”
Designating oceans as national parks isn’t a new idea. But recent years have seen some more dramatic moves by nations like New Caledonia to protect ocean habitat. In March, the U.K. confirmed the creation of the world’s largest continuous marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands. Last year, the tiny island nation of Palau proposed the world’s first National Marine Sanctuary.
American leaders have been getting hip to the importance of protecting the oceans as well, the panelists pointed out. Toward the end of his presidency, George W. Bush invoked the Antiquities Act of 1906 to protect more than 195,000 square miles of ocean habitat. In all, Bush protected more than 333,000 square miles of the ocean. President Obama has built on President Bush’s work, expanding one area in the Central Pacific to an expanse three times the size of California.