Those areas — totaling almost 350,000 square miles — will encompass islands some 600 miles offshore and increase Brazil’s protected areas to nearly 25 percent of its waters from about 1.5 percent now. The Ministry of the Environment is creating a circle of protection 400 miles in diameter around those islands without actually protecting much of anything. Fishing, both recreational and commercial, will still be allowed within most of those areas, and only a small portion of the coastal habitats surrounding the islands, the most critical to safeguard, will actually be protected from fishing, mining and oil and gas exploration.
All the while, dozens of other proposals for protected zones in coastal Brazil (including one of my own), some as small as one square mile, have gone nowhere.
The United States has pursued this “just add water” approach, too. In 2006, President George W. Bush created the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, covering 140,000 square miles around the northwestern Hawaiian Islands. By all measures, this was a great move because it fully protected all coral reefs in the monument. Ten years later, President Barack Obama expanded it into the open ocean, more than quadrupling its size. This action was extolled for providing critical protection for coral reefs, but in reality the reefs had been safe since President Bush designated the original area.
Some argue that these open-ocean protected areas harbor hundreds of oceangoing species. While that’s true, even the most effectively enforced of these areas fail to fully protect species like tuna, whose cruising speed of 10 miles an hour means that they can cross a protected area in mere days. The expansion of Papahanaumokuakea, for example, has not affected Hawaii’s annual yield of open-ocean tuna catches.