Saturday July 20, 2024

Protected zones

By Editorial Board
January 11, 2018

With Pakistan suffering immense environmental degradation, it comes as good news that it has declared the Indus River Canyon its second Marine Protected Area (MPA). The Indus River Canyon, comprising 27,607 square kilometres, covers Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone in the Arabian Sea. The first MPA zone in Pakistan is the Astola Island, which was declared protected in the middle of last year. The notification has come from the Ministry of Climate which has begun to fulfil some of Pakistan’s commitments under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. It is also another reminder of how much biological richness continues to exist within Pakistan which we have often pushed to the backburner due to our obsession with development. We know that the Indus River has continued to suffer from severe environmental degradation from a range of factors. The trouble is whether this designation will mean anything significant on the ground. It is one thing to declare the Astola Island a protected zone; it is a much smaller area of 400 square kilometres. But it is completely different to declare the Indus River Canyon a protected zone.

The point is not just to fulfil requirements on paper but to work out a plan for how the area will be protected. The Indus River Canyon itself is located 150km southeast of Karachi. It is an offshore location with a maximum depth of 1,800 metres before the deep Arabian Sea Basin and is known for its rich biodiversity, including sharks and whales. However, overfishing has resulted in the marine populations dwindling. Will the recent declaration mean new restrictions on fishing in the area? Will the government provide the monitoring mechanisms needed to ensure that the restrictions are enforced? The fulfilment of the requirement to declare over 10 percent of coastal and marine areas conservation zones cannot just remain on paper. Being a breeding ground for whales and home to two unique dolphins, the Indus River Canyon needs to be protected. But this decision also opens up a debate about how many more regions in Pakistan’s territory are host to an immense amount of biodiversity that remains under threat. More protected zones are needed but the same is true for more enforcement. Inland diversity remains threatened in areas such as the Thal Desert by acts such as coal mining; and similar projects continue to prioritise development over the environment across the country. We know Pakistan is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Protecting the environment is the only way to safeguard against the impact of climate change. We need more.