By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information.Sustainable Development Goal target 14.5
Protecting marine areas is a vital measure in re-establishing and protecting the blue paradises that support and give life to our planet. So when we learned that the SDG target 14.5 (see introduction to the SDGs here Life Below Water – Sustainable Development Goal 14) was the only one of the four targets under SDG 14 with a 2020 deadline to meet (or on track to meet) to be realised, we were delighted and keen for the target to be extended to conserve beyond the 10 % of coastal and marine areas (World Oceans Day is calling for the goal to be extended to 30 pct. protected by 2030 (Sign the Petition – World Ocean Day). But then we learned that the 10 % is “rounded up” from less than 5 % or maybe only 1 % (defying the rules of mathematics and common sense).
When vital action only happens on paper
For example, according to the EU commission 10.8 % of European waters are designated marine protected areas (MPAs). However the European Environmental Agency has found that less than 1 pct. of the EU MPAs are fully protected by fishing bans. This notion was further backed by the European Court of auditors in their report from November 2020 warning that “EU protection rules have not led to the recovery of significant ecosystems and habitats”. Since the Mediterranean is the most overfished sea in the world, focus is often centred on the actions of the southern EU member states – but the problem of “paper parks” appears to be universal.
Denmark – a rich and resourceful, Nordic country surrounded by water – is apparently also quick to fill the paperwork, but less efficient in filling its (empty) promises. According to a recent report, although Denmark has declared 18.8 % of the country’s total marine area to be protected in various ways, it’s only about a quarter of these areas that actually meet the definition set by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In other words, talk is cheap and makes for good PR, but in reality Denmark is only half way to fulfil the SDG target for 14.5, with only 4.8 % of Denmark’s total marine living up to the international recognised criteria for MPAs.
Start locally – protecting our blue front garden
Although not exactly the Great Barrier Reef or the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, Øresund (our home and playground in the last few years) is magical in its own right and a great example of the positive effects of marine protection. Øresund, the sound separating Sweden and Denmark, has a constant stream of activity due to the many ships, cruisers and fishing boats operating in these cold and murky waters. Some of the cruise ships are so big that when they pass by Kronborg Castle, they make it look like a Lego miniature version of itself. Nonetheless, there is an incredible wildlife and beauty, which is often overlooked. Let me paint you a picture:
A day of sailing on Øresund begins with the sun rising over the little hills of Sweden and the seagulls on their morning hunts, shooting like arrows into the sea and surfacing proudly with their prey. In the quite morning waters the harbour porpoises may play timidly behind the stern and, if you are very lucky, you might even experience the immense tuna “jumping for joy” in the north. In the midday the seals are sunbathing on the rocks at the little islands of the sound, and the water may be so clear that you can spot schools of cod swimming at the bow of your boat. You may go for a little snorkel, spearfish flatfish for lunch, or at the end of the day join the fishing mania (men and birds alike) and fish mackerels and herring while watching the sunset behind Kronborg castle.
But if not for the marine protection measures set in place almost a century back, the only life in Øresund would probably be the undergrowth beneath the containerships. Øresund has for example been protected against trawl fishing since 1932, and in 1977 Sweden and Denmark introduced a ban on hunting seals – saving them from the brink of extinction in the sound. In 2020 Denmark banned sand suction in the sound too.
According to the aforementioned report, 9.3 % of Øresund’s total area is protected in coherence with the IUCN definition. Although several areas of Øresund are protected reserves and there is apparently political capital to declare the sound a marine national park (in collaboration with Sweden) – there are still urgent issues that must be addressed and not covered up with shiny paperwork and bombastic, but hollow political statements. A marine national park will hopefully serve to maintain the current bans on trawling and sand suction in the sound. But it is also deemed vital by Danish NGOs to stop:
- bottom trawling in the area just north of the sound,
- raw material extraction south of the sound, and
- wastewater effluent.
So it is up to us citizens to appreciate and pay special attention to our blue back gardens, in order to ensure that they are properly protected. We have to ask what does any proclaimed protection actually entail and is it enough? After all, window dressing does nothing to save aquatic life on our blue planet.
 The Guardian. (2020, december 3). Karen McVeigh. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/03/auditors-slam-eu-for-marine-protected-areas-that-fail-to-protect-ocean
 European Court of Auditors. (2020 ). Marine environment: EU protection is wide but not deep . Brussels : European Court of Auditors.
 Jan Woollhead, A. P. (2020). Vurdering af danske beskyttede havområder efter inaternational standard. IUCN SSC Conservation Planning Specialist Group Europe ved Zoolog
 Danmarks Naturfredningsforening. (2020, juni 27). https://www.dn.dk/nyheder/ny-beskyttelse-af-oresund-skal-vaere-mere-end-bare-streger-pa-et-kort/