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February 2019
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SPEA is an Environmental not-for-profit organization whose mission is to support research and conservation of wild birds and their habitats, by promoting sustainable development for the benefit of future generations.
Home  > Study and conservation > Projects > Marine Ecosystem Services > Marine Ecosystem Services and Marine Protected Areas

Marine Ecosystem Services and Marine Protected Areas

Protected areas are established in order to conserve the world's biodiversity (ecosystems, habitats, species, genetic resources), while providing a wide range of benefits to society and economy, the so-called ecosystem services.

In the European Union, the Natura 2000 is the main instrument for nature conservation. It includes the areas classified as SPA (Special Protection Areas under the Birds Directive) and SIC (Sites of Community Importance under the Habitats Directive). It aims to ensure the long-term conservation of species and of the most threatened habitats in Europe, contributing to halt the loss of biodiversity. The process of enlarging the Natura 2000 network to the marine environment has started more than a decade ago, but in Portugal it remains to lag behind.

In 2006, as a result of the Malahide Conference, the European Commission adopted an action plan onbiodiversity, which has established that: (i) the marine network of SPA should be completed by 2008; (ii) new SIC should be appointed - including management and conservation proposals – by 2012; and (iii) a  comprehensive management of marine SPA should be promoted also by 2012. In 2011, the European Commission adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020.In what regards the Birds and Habitats Directives, the first section of the strategy establishes that Member States and the Commission shall ensure that, by 2012, the setting up of Natura 2000 network should be largely completed, including the marine environment.

In Portugal - as a result of Project ‘Marine IBAs’, LIFE04 NAT / PT / 000213, coordinated by SPEA inpartnership with ICNF, SRAM, SRARN, IPMA and Aveiro University – in 2008, was published the first national inventory of Marine Important Bird Areas (marine IBAs), identifying 17 marine IBA within the Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). This research aimed to be the basis for the designation of national marine SPA. Currently, only 0.01% of the Portuguese EEZ is classified as marine protected area (MPA). This value contrasts from other European countries, and is far from the Aichi targets (target 11) – which defines that by 2020, 10% of marine area under the responsibility of the Member States should be designated as MPA, and their management duly regulated and applied.

The marine areas currently classified in Portugal include the Berlengas marine SPA (extended in 2012) and other areas classified at the coast. However, the Portuguese government - jointly with SPEA - recently defined an extension of the areas proposed as marine SPA, and soon will do the same exercise for the identification of marine SIC. This proposal is predicted to be implemented in 2015, in line with the deadline of ‘MarPro’, project - LIFE09 NAT / PT / 000038 - responsible for identifying these new MPA.

The creation of this set of MPA will entail increased costs for its management. Globally, it was estimated an effective cost of $ 775 per km2 per year, although, in many cases it was considered that this cost did not reach the necessary funding for the full protection of MPA. In this same study, a global network of MPA covering an area of 20% - 30% of the seas and oceans was modelled, resulting in an estimation of a cost of $ 5 - $ 19 (109) per year. But marine ecosystems provide a range of good and services that largely exceed the estimated cost of its management.

MPA management allows a considerable increase of the fishing stock, which according to FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) was estimated at $ 70-80 (109) billion, providing direct employment to 38 million people and indirect to 162 million. Costanza et al. (1997) estimated the value of marine ecosystem services (MES) at $ 4.5- $ 6.7 trillion (in 1012) per year. Some of these ecosystems, if not protected can have catastrophic consequences on human populations, such as those associated with coastal erosion and marine toxicity.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment identified a number of relevant MES seriously threatened. As provision services, the most important are the food resources, or from fisheries or from aquaculture, the most growing branch of the industry's, which already in 2000 was valued at $ 57 billion (109) - but also with some relevance to bioprospecting, energy resources and construction materials. Regulation services are also very relevant, especially if we consider that more than a third of the world population live in coastal areas or small islands. Services such as coastal stabilization, protection against floods and coastal erosion, pollutant degradation and climate regulation have very high replacement costs when they are affected. No less relevant are the cultural services, particularly those related to tourism, for example the estimated value of coral reefs for recreational diving is approximately $ 30 billion a year, but there is also an important cultural and recreational value. Finally, marine ecosystems are the most productive ecosystems on the planet, providing habitat for a lot of species and promoting nutrient cycling and soil fertility. 

Regarding Portugal - and according to the Portuguese Millennium Ecosystem Assessment - fisheries are the most important provision service representing about 0.33% of gross domestic product in 2007. In 2004, aquaculture in coastal areas accounted for just over 5% of the total national fish production: 6802 tons, estimated in 39,652 thousand euros. Other services, such as bioprospecting, although potentially relevant, have been little explored and so there is little information about it. With a coastline of about 976 km in length only on the Portugal mainland, regulation services, such as coastal protection and climate regulation, gain a special relevance. Also cultural services, specifically coastal tourism and maritime tourism activities, play an important role in the Portuguese economy, highly dependent on conservation status – not disregarding the very important role of the culture and Portuguese traditions related to the coastal areas and the ocean, many of which are endangered.

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