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A jellyfish in Australia's Coral Sea. (Photograph by Melissa Fiene, My Shot)
TravelTraveler Magazine

The World’s New ‘Water Parks’

Less than three percent.

That’s the portion of the world’s oceans now set aside for conservation — a small safety net that ecologists are working to increase.

Joining a wave of new marine reserves, Australia recently designated 382,000 square miles in the Coral Sea to preserve an area of fish-haloed seamounts, turtle nesting areas, and 25 reefs where most commercial fishing and extractive activities will now be prohibited.

Snorkelers and ecotourists closer to American shores have welcomed the Caribbean Challenge Initiative, an impressive effort by ten governments with the goal of protecting 20 percent of their coastal shelf by 2020.

And California recently established some 1,027 square miles of new marine protected areas, capping off the U.S.’s largest such network. The network will limit habitat destruction in nearly a hundred places like the Farallon Islands and Point Reyes.

So where’s this current headed? “We’ll see the creation of more reserves,” says marine ecologist and National Geographic explorer-in-residence Enric Sala. “Governments see that it’s good for their image, and communities see that reserves create jobs and raise more revenue than overfishing.”

This piece, written by Rhett Register, appeared in the December/January issue of National Geographic Traveler. There’s a lot that’s not online. Subscribe today to get the print edition for just $10 a year.