The oceans blanket 72% of our blue planet. As humans have evolved and industrialized, they have taken from the oceans what they have liked, at a faster rate than the oceans can replenish – like withdrawing from a checking account without making deposits. One of the world’s most critical assets for food, climate and jobs, oceans require sustainable management for ongoing environmental and economic returns.

  • Who governs the oceans?  Each country governs the waters within 200 miles of its coastline, but beyond that, oceans are virtually open hunting grounds of the “high seas” – about 60% of the oceans.
  • How much is protected now?  To date there are over 8,000 marine protected areas (MPAs) worldwide (, with a median size of five square kilometers, covering only 1.2% of oceans. (On land, 12% globally is protected.)
  • What is the goal?  Scientists have recommended that 20-50% of the oceans be protected; the parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity agreed in 2010 to protect 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020.
  • How will we get there?  Likely through a combination of hundreds of thousands of small MPAs in inhabited areas, and a smaller number of very large MPAs (hundreds of thousands of square kilometers each) in remote places.

The YGL Fish Banks Initiative, led by Dr Enric Sala, believe that marine reserves should be seen as “fish banks”. The solution is to complement traditional top-down government and big NGO approaches with bottom-up community businesses managed locally using private investment. This solves two main issues of the top-down approach: limited funds and local accountability for proper long-term reserve management.

I have been fortunate to witness the results of these reserves. Nature gives great return on our investment. Data shows that the economic benefits of reserves can offset the costs of closure in as little as five years, in some cases doubling the income of local fishers. Any projected short-term loss of revenue could be financed by private investment or public-private partnerships. Fish inside the reserves attract tourism and new jobs. Fish also spill over the reserve boundaries, enhancing local fishing. With locals invested, we have not only a strong environmental and economic model, but also the right incentives for local stakeholder enforcement and management. We will be publishing two papers this fall that will include a suite of financing options and case studies of what works.

For more information on Fish Banks and how to get involved please contact In the meantime, please watch the following video explaining Ocean Returns.

Author: Kristin Rechberger is CEO of Dynamic Planet, an organization that designs, implements and scales successful conservation and humanitarian projects. Prior to founding Dynamic Planet, Kristin was Senior Vice-President of Global Programs and Partnerships at the National Geographic Society. She is a 2009 Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, and currently serves on the YGL Advisory Council.

Photo Credit: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies/Marine Photobank