Myth 3: Lands and resources lying within ocean and coastal waters already have existing protection.
Fact 3: Protection levels for ocean and coastal areas vary dramatically from totally protected to completely unprotected.
Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs) can help fill gaps in ocean and coastal protection where other mechanisms are not available. This scenario is contrary to a relatively common myth that all lands and resources lying within ocean and coastal waters are already protected. This myth exists in part because the vast majority of ocean and coastal lands and resources are owned and managed by government entities and most people assume government entities should be protecting these areas. However, this may not be the case.
- Public ownership does not equate to protection: Many, if not all, land and resource agencies have multiple-use mandates that require agencies to balance the needs of conservation with other human needs such as commercial, residential, and recreational uses. Often, these agencies must determine what balance means, which may ultimately not be to the benefit of conservation interests. Also, in some cases, conservation is not an identified mandate of land and resource agencies. As a result, publicly-owned lands and resources lying within ocean and coastal waters can often and easily be developed and degraded.
- Laws are not permanent: Government zoning, statutes, regulations, policies, and designations meant to protect areas can be rescinded almost as easily as they can be established. As such, government protection afforded to ocean and coastal areas may not be permanent.
- There are always exceptions: Economic pressures can drive local and state agencies to issue deviations, exceptions, exemptions, and alterations to protective laws, procedures, and zoning. Given this, ocean and coastal areas that are protected may always be subject to impact if external pressures are great enough.
- Philosophies change: Political pressures can change with time; these changes can easily bring changes to conservation philosophies and practices. New elections also bring new decision-makers, whose philosophies on use of public lands versus protection of public lands can vary greatly. As a result, protection placed on ocean and coastal areas by one administration can be over-turned by a subsequent administration.