For the first time ever, a comprehensive report was released this week outlining how well states protect coastal waters. "There is much room for improvement," the Marine Conservation Institute researchers wrote.
The 2013 Sea States Report shows that the United States has done a lackluster job of protecting coasts through no-take protection laws, the strictest way to create a marine protected area (MPA). No-take protections mean that oil and gas drilling are prohibited, as well as fishing and other types of ecological disturbances.
Of 23 coastal states surveyed, 15 have zero (0.00%) no-take areas. Six have little more than one percent of coastal waters under no-take protections, and only two states (California and Hawaii) have more than five percent of their coasts designated as no-take areas.
According to Mission Blue, many scientists recommend that at least twenty percent of coastal waters, on average, should be under no-take protections in order to sustain a healthy ocean. Hawaii, with 22.9 percent of coastal waters fully protected, is the only U.S. state that even comes close to that recommendation.
No-take areas are important for economic, as well as environmental, reasons. The report states that although coastal counties only account for 5.71% of the area in the contiguous 48 states, they generate 35.54% of the country’s GDP. In fact, these coastal counties generate almost nine times as much GDP per square mile as inland and Great Lakes counties.
The good news is that all coastal states besides New Hampshire have some form of designated MPAs. The researchers found that protected areas cover about ten percent of state and territorial waters. California and Florida have done the most, with 49 and 46 percent of coastlands protected, respectively.
Another positive finding of the report is that it’s not too late to do something about these numbers. Oregon has three no-take areas, and announced in 2012 that it would designate three more. Once these protections are put in place, Oregon’s no-take MPAs will jump from 0.31 percent to almost four percent of its coastal area.
“Whether you love our oceans for their beauty, for their fishes and marine mammals or for generating half of the oxygen we breathe, you should want them to be strongly protected," she added. "America’s oceans and people deserve better.”
There are many ways to help protect America's coastlines. Individuals can eat seafood from sustainable fisheries and support organizations who work for marine-life protections. If you live in a coastal state, visit oceanchampions.org to find out which politicians support ocean conservation.
Below are the 13 states and territories that have some form of no-take protections. Is your coastline protected?