The seas around the Northern Mariana Islands, 2,250 km south of Japan, are home to incredibly rare species, not to mention unusual features like a boiling pool of liquid sulphur (the only other known sulphur pool is on one of Jupiter’s moons), gigantic mud volcanoes, and the Mariana Trench, our planet’s deepest canyon. But convincing the public to care about places underwater, which they won’t ever visit, can be a challenge. Still, over 245 marine scientists are calling for a global system of marine reserves—“national parks at sea”—to protect against overfishing, pollution, and other threats.
Oceans cover 71 per cent of Earth, notes the Pew Environment Group’s Global Ocean Legacy, but less than 0.5 per cent is fully protected, compared to almost six per cent of land habitats.
Governments began designating national parks over a century ago, and are now moving to protect the ocean. In 2009, the U.S. set aside 245,000 square km around the Mariana Islands, and Canada just protected 3,500 square km at the Haida Gwaii islands, including the sea bed. “The bottom of the ocean is quite incredible,” says Jay Nelson, director of Global Ocean Legacy, “even if people can’t see it except in pictures.”