A WCS United Nations Ocean Conference Blog

Scaling Up Marine Protection in Patagonia

Admiralty Sound off Tierra del Fuego is an area rich in marine biodiversity. Photo © WCS Chile.

By Martin Mendez and Claudio Campagna
June 5, 2017

The Patagonian Sea is home to some of the world’s most charismatic marine wildlife — including whales, dolphins, sharks, elephant seals, penguins, and many other seabirds — that move across this unique mega-seascape through their lifecycles, completing all feeding and reproductive processes.

This fantastic marine body encompasses over 3 million square kilometers (about 5 times the size of France) of highly productive waters that support a significant portion of the global marine biomass. The sea enables large-scale ecosystem services such as nutrient and CO2 regulation. But it also represents a critical resource for people living in the region — for food, for tourism, and more broadly for local economies.

Southern elephant seal on Argentina’s Patagonia coast. Photo by Cristián Samper/WCS.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are amongst the most powerful tools to safeguard large portions of our oceans and their biodiversity, while maintaining their critical ecological functions. Unfortunately, international waters are hard to protect given the enormous task of monitoring and enforcing global agreements.

National waters, on the other hand, can be effectively protected though the design and implementation of MPAs that provide real connections between habitats important both to key marine species and the ecological processes that support them. Moreover, MPA systems can be integrated across countries in networks, thus extending protection at a wider scale.

Black-browed albatross in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Photo by Graham Harris/WCS.

Recent decades have seen unprecedented advances in the science needed to design appropriate conservation plans for the Patagonian Sea. In particular, the scientific, civil society, and government sectors have effectively collaborated to identify areas most important for ensuring that this seascape maintains its marine identity and ecological functions.

Such strategic and collaborative work, only possible through multinational and multidisciplinary alliances, has succeeded in achieving unparalleled government commitments to make a long-lasting impact for the preservation the Patagonia seascape. Argentina and Chile are currently aligned in an effort to protect at least 10 percent of their national waters by 2020, in accordance with the Aichi Biodiversity Targets set by the Convention on Biodiversity.

The Patagonian Sea is home to some of the world’s most charismatic marine wildlife — including whales, dolphins, sharks, elephant seals, penguins, and many other seabirds. Photo by William Conway/WCS.

As global decision makers, scientists, and civil society gather in the United Nations Ocean Conference to support the protection of the world’s oceans, we are encouraged by local examples like Patagonia, where the best available science is met with multi-stakeholder collaboration and strong political leadership to conserve our planet and provide for our societies.

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Dr. Martin Mendez is Director WCS’s Southern Cone and Patagonia Program. Dr. Claudio Campagna is Director of WCS’s Argentina Marine Program.