When I reviewed a beautiful documentary about oceanographer Sylvia Earle, and I remember thinking that her call for protecting 20 percent of the world's oceans with marine sanctuaries was important, but perhaps a little utopian. After all, how would we patrol and protect such a huge area of the world's surface? But technology may be coming to the rescue.
Where once we needed ships, now we have satellites.
This fact was underlined when a group of conservationists and celebrities, spearheaded by the Blue Marine Foundation, called on the U.K. government to create the world's largest marine reserve by protecting waters near the U.K.-owned Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific, and Ascension Island and South Sandwich Islands in the Atlantic. Taken together, the proposals would more than double the amount of marine protected areas worldwide — and the concept has garnered massive support from conservation groups, academics and big-name celebrities. Even Leonard DiCaprio has gotten in on the conversation on Twitter.
What's particularly interesting, alongside the sheer size and scope of the proposed conservation areas (this would even beat the gigantic ocean conservation area created by the United States recently), is that the costs for patrolling a marine reserve have plummeted. Just as satellites have been used to track seals and document deforestation, they can be a powerful and cost-effective tool to monitor fishing activity, identify would-be pirates and collect evidence of any violations.
Here's how The Guardian reported the story:
According to the conservationists, satellite monitoring and modern technology has now precluded the need for boats to patrol the vast areas and has dramatically reduced costs. Previous government estimates, based on a single boat patrolling the Chagos islands MPA, have suggested it might cost £4m a year to monitor and enforce an MPA around Ascension or Pitcairn. But this may now have been reduced to £400,000 a year, said Charles Clover, chair of the Blue Foundation and a spokesman for the coalition.
So now there is at least one less reason for anti-Big Government folks to hate on marine reserves. It turns out they're a pretty cheap way of protecting our global commons.
Of course, fewer ships patrolling the reserve means less diesel being burned up too — so now we can go green while going green. (Unless we have to account for the rocket fuel used to get the satellite into space...)
No word yet on whether the government will greenlight the proposed nature reserves. The campaigners hope that upcoming elections will push the ruling Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition to make an announcement in an effort to bolster their (somewhat tarnished) environmental credentials. Keep an eye on the Blue Marine Foundation's Facebook page for updates.