British and US marine scientists say that the race to designate ever-bigger marine national parks in remote parts of the world could work against conservation.

In an commentary timed to coincide with President Obama’s announcement of the huge extension of a marine park off Hawaii, the authors argue that the creation of very large marine protection areas (Vlmpas) may give the illusion of conservation, when in fact they may be little more than “paper parks”.

“It is not enough to simply cover the remotest parts of our oceans in notional ‘protection’ – we need to focus on seas closer to shore, where most of the fishing and drilling actually happens,” said Peter Jones, a marine researcher at University College London.

Co-author Elizabeth de Santo, an assistant professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania, added that the push for quantity over quality threatens to undermine sustainability.

“There are concerns that marine conservation aims could be undermined by this focus on a few big areas. The marine biodiversity target is about much more than the proportion of the seas that are covered,” she said.

In the past five years over 20 huge new marine parks have been designated by countries, including Britain, in response to calls by marine scientists to protect more of the oceans.

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