Managers of the world’s flagship marine protected areas are meeting in the Galápagos Islands this week to chart a sustainable ocean future
National Geographic Endeavor — Today in the Galápagos, UNESCO is bringing together the guardians of our planet’s most unique and beloved ocean places. Our goal: to chart a sustainable future for the 49 marine World Heritage sites that the global community has deemed of irreplaceable value. World Heritage is more than just a list of special places. Nations work for years to get World Heritage recognition, and the very minute a site is listed, all leaders of all nations are bound by the responsibility to protect it.
The roots of this global cooperation date back to 1956, when the Abu Simbel temples were in danger of being forever lost beneath the Nile, and Egypt and Sudan appealed to UNESCO for help. More than 50 nations came together to fund the careful relocation of the 5,000-year-old temples to higher ground. This historic campaign set the stage for the 1972 World Heritage Convention ratified by nearly every nation on Earth, signifying their commitment to conserve, not just their own treasures, but the common heritage of humankind.
This sense of connectedness—and interdependence—is a fact of life in the ocean. Birds, sharks, whales and fish are heedless of national boundaries. So are plastic pollution, climate change, and invasive species. That is why UNESCO brings together the international network of marine site managers every three years to discuss our common challenges and collaborate on solutions.
Since the first marine site was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1982, the network has grown to encompass 49 sites in 37 countries that stretch from the tropics to the poles. It includes the breeding grounds of the world’s last healthy population of grey whales, the highest density of ancestral polar-bear dens, and home of the world’s most ancient fish and the inimitable marine iguana. (The Marine World Heritage sites are listed at the bottom of this post, under the video.)
Despite their iconic status, these places are facing unprecedented challenges. Right now, more than 15 World Heritage sites are suffering from serious coral bleaching. A third of all marine World Heritage sites are still unsustainably or illegally fished. We will never have all the money we need to solve all our problems, or all the science required to understand them. But the World Heritage marine network has a unique opportunity to spearhead change on a global scale. Collectively, these managers have hundreds of thousands of hours practice in protecting our flagship protected areas, and sit on a treasure trove of success stories.
At this conference, we will be joined by leading experts like Daniel Pauly of the University of British Columbia, Martin Visbeck of GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research, Paul Marshall from the University of Queensland, Lara Hansen from EcoAdapt, Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer in Residence, Brian Sullivan from Google Oceans, and Sven Lindblad of Lindblad Expeditions, whose ship, the National Geographic Endeavour, will be our home base for the week.
The central themes of this year’s conference are climate change, sustainable fisheries, and collaboration. World Heritage marine sites are among the most studied ocean areas on the planet. They are like living labs for research and innovation, and this week we will be sharing our ideas and lessons with one another and with the world. You can follow along right here on National Geographic Voices, and also on Twitter and Facebook.
Marine World Heritage Sites
- Aldabra Atoll
- Archipiélago de Revillagigedo
- Area de Conservación Guanacaste
- Banc d’Arguin National Park
- Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
- Brazilian Atlantic Islands: Fernando de Noronha and Atol das Rocas Reserves
- Cocos Island National Park
- Coiba National Park and its Special Zone of Marine Protection
- East Rennell
- Everglades National Park
- Galápagos Islands
- Gough and Inaccessible Islands
- Great Barrier Reef
- Gulf of Porto: Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata, Scandola Reserve
- Ha Long Bay
- Heard and McDonald Islands
- High Coast / Kvarken Archipelago
- Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture
- iSimangaliso Wetland Park
- Islands and Protected Areas of the Gulf of California
- Kluane / Wrangell-St. Elias / Glacier Bay / Tatshenshini-Alsek
- Komodo National Park
- Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems
- Lord Howe Island Group
- Macquarie Island
- Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary
- Natural System of Wrangel Island Reserve
- New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands
- Ningaloo Coast
- Ogasawara Islands
- Península Valdés
- Phoenix Islands Protected Area
- Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park
- Rock Islands Southern Lagoon
- Sanganeb Marine National Park and Dungonab Bay – Mukkawar Island Marine National Park
- Shark Bay, Western Australia
- Sian Ka’an
- Socotra Archipelago
- St Kilda
- Sundarbans National Park
- The Sundarbans
- Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
- Ujung Kulon National Park
- Wadden Sea
- West Norwegian Fjords – Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord
- Whale Sanctuary of El Vizcaino
Dr. Fanny Douvere is the coordinator of the Marine Programme at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris, France. Since October 2009, her mission is to ensure the 49 marine sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List are conserved and sustainably managed so future generations can continue to enjoy them. She recently wrote in Nature on why not investing in marine World Heritage is a lost opportunity for the oceans.
Prior to her work at the World Heritage Centre, she co-initiated and led the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) initative at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. In 2009 she co-published the UNESCO guide Marine Spatial Planning: A Step-by-Step Approach Toward Ecosystem-based Management. The guide has gained international recognition for setting a standard for the application of MSP and is available in six languages. She also served as an advisor to the United States Executive Office of the President (Council of Environmental Quality) on the development of the US Framework for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning.
She co-authored more than 20 articles in internationally peer-reviewed journals on both marine World Heritage and MSP. Most recently, she authored for World Heritage Marine Sites Managing effectively the world’s most iconic Marine Protected Areas. A Best Practice Guide, in which she lays out a tangible approach for marine protected area management based on the fundamental idea that all things happen in time and space and the oceans should be managed accordingly.
Fanny obtained her PhD in 2010 from the Ghent University in Belgium and published the book Marine Spatial Planning: Concepts, current practice and linkages to other management approaches.