To safeguard biodiversity effectively, marine protected areas (MPAs) should be sited using the best available science. There are numerous ongoing United Nations and non-governmental initiatives to map globally important marine areas. The criteria used by these initiatives vary, resulting in contradictions in the areas identified as important. Our analysis is the first to overlay these initiatives, quantify consensus, and conduct gap analyses at the global scale. We found that 55% of the ocean has been identified as important by one or more initiatives, and that individual areas have been identified by as many as seven overlapping initiatives. Using our overlay map and data on current MPA coverage, we highlight gaps in protection of important areas of the ocean. We considered any area identified by two to four initiatives to be of moderate consensus. Over 14% of the ocean fell under this category and most of this area (88%) is not yet protected. The largest concentrations of medium-consensus areas without protection were found in the Caribbean Sea, Madagascar and the southern tip of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Coral Triangle. Areas of high consensus (identified by five to seven initiatives) were almost always within MPAs, but their no-take status was often unreported. We found that nearly every marine province and nearly every exclusive economic zone contained area that has been identified as important but is not yet protected. Much of the identified area lies within contiguous stretches of >100,000 km2; it is unrealistic to expect that all this area be protected. Nonetheless, our results on areas of consensus provide initial insight into opportunities for further ocean protection.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
Marine management interventions are increasingly being implemented with the explicit goal of rebuilding ocean ecosystems, but early responses may begin with alterations in ecological interactions preceding detectable changes in population-level characteristics. To establish a baseline from which to monitor the effects of spatial protection on reef fish trophic ecology and track future ecosystem-level changes, we quantified temperate reef fish densities, size, biomass, diets and isotopic signatures at nine sites nested within two fished and one five-year old marine protected area (MPA) on the northwest coast of Canada. We calculated rockfish (Sebastes spp.) community and species-specific niche breadth for fished and protected areas based on δ13C and δ15N values. We found that rockfish community niche width was greater inside the MPA relative to adjacent fished reefs due to an expanded nitrogen range, possibly reflecting early changes in trophic interactions following five years of spatial protection. Our data also demonstrated that the MPA had a positive effect on the δ15N signature of rockfish (i.e., trophic position), but the effect of rockfish length on its own was not well-supported. In addition, we found a positive interaction between rockfish length and δ15N signature, such that δ15N signatures of rockfish caught within the MPA increased more rapidly with body size than those caught in fished areas. Differences in rockfish size structure and biomass among fished and unfished areas were not clearly evident. Species of rockfish and lingcod varied in trophic and size responses, indicating that life-history traits play an important role in predicting MPA effects. These results may suggest early changes in trophic behavior of slow-growing rockfish due to predation risk by faster growing higher trophic level predators such as lingcod inside MPAs established on temperate reefs. Consequently, spatial protection may restore both the trophic and behavioral roles of previously fished consumers earlier and in measurable ways sooner than observable changes in abundance and size.
Changes in structure and function of coral reefs are increasingly significant and few sites in the Caribbean can tolerate local and global stress factors. Therefore, we assessed coral reef condition indicators in reefs within and outside of MPAs in the southeastern Dominican Republic, considering benthic cover as well as the composition, diversity, recruitment, mortality, bleaching, the conservation status and evolutionary distinctiveness of coral species. In general, we found that reef condition indicators (coral and benthic cover, recruitment, bleaching, and mortality) within the MPAs showed better conditions than in the unprotected area (Boca Chica). Although the comparison between the Boca Chica area and the MPAs may present some spatial imbalance, these zones were chosen for the purpose of making a comparison with a previous baseline presented. In actuality these indicators found in the MPAs have improved when compared to results from previous reports (2001) in the same reefs and others in the Caribbean. Additionally, we found no evidence of massive bleaching during the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) of 2015. Reef-building species belonging to Orbicella species complex dominate MPAs, while small colonies of Pseudodiploria strigosa and Siderastrea siderea with low structural complexity dominate the unprotected sites. Key findings include the potential offered by MPAs as a network; our results show that a combination of MPAs protect the variation in diversity and promote the conservation of coral while maintaining historical evolution traits. This study offers an evaluation framework that considers multiple aspects of relevance in the conservation of Caribbean coral reefs, presenting a baseline of ecological indicators in the southeastern region of the Dominican Republic. It also recognizes some protected reefs in this region that can be designated as places of hope, with excellent conditions in the coral community.
Zooplankton biomass (as wet weight) was studied around marine protected islands in the tropical Atlantic Ocean. The study was based on 96 zooplankton samples collected during a 3-year period; specifically, 2010 was considered a year of thermal stress, and 2012 and 2014 were considered years without thermal stress. The analysis showed that zooplankton biomass varied significantly among protected areas, where the smallest and most isolated archipelago among the tropical islands, Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago (SPSP), had approximately twice the biomass of Fernando de Noronha Archipelago (FN) and three times that of Rocas Atoll (RA). The position of SPSP near the equatorial divergence zone, the seasonal occurrences of phytoplankton blooms east of the Equator, the contribution of the productive waters that SPSP receives from the African coast under the influence of the South Equatorial Current (SEC) system and the local upwelling effect induced by the presence of the island were considered to be the factors responsible for the high pelagic productivity in this remote archipelago. Differences between day and night were also recorded. The high nocturnal biomass was considered an effect of the capture of larger-sized animals, which are considered to be strong migrators. The lowest zooplankton biomass was recorded in 2010 and was considered an apparent effect of the high sea surface temperature observed in that year. However, the interaction between spatial and interannual factors showed that, in FN and SPSP, the zooplankton biomass was lower in the year under thermal stress (2010). In contrast, RA presented a higher biomass value in this period. We suggest that this increase in zooplankton biomass is the result of the contribution of autochthonous sources (e.g., as a consequence of local physical events, such as current wakes, recorded during this period at RA and responsible for the increase in local planktonic productivity) and allochthonous sources (e.g., organisms supplied by FN via the zonal current).
Geographic isolation is an important yet underappreciated factor affecting marine reserve performance. Isolation, in combination with other factors, may preclude recruit subsidies, thus slowing recovery when base populations are small and causing a mismatch between performance and stakeholder expectations. Mona Island is a small, oceanic island located within a partial biogeographic barrier—44 km from the Puerto Rico shelf. We investigated if Mona Island’s no-take zone (MNTZ), the largest in the U.S. Caribbean, was successful in increasing mean size and density of a suite of snapper and grouper species 14 years after designation. The La Parguera Natural Reserve (LPNR) was chosen for evaluation of temporal trends at a fished location. Despite indications of fishing within the no-take area, a reserve effect at Mona Island was evidenced from increasing mean sizes and densities of some taxa and mean total density 36% greater relative to 2005. However, the largest predatory species remained rare at Mona, preventing meaningful analysis of population trends. In the LPNR, most commercial species (e.g., Lutjanus synagris, Lutjanus apodus, Lutjanus mahogoni) did not change significantly in biomass or abundance, but some (Ocyurus chrysurus, Lachnolaimus maximus), increased in abundance owing to strong recent recruitment. This study documents slow recovery in the MNTZ that is limited to smaller sized species, highlighting both the need for better compliance and the substantial recovery time required by commercially valuable, coral reef fishes in isolated marine reserves.
Large marine protected areas (MPAs) are increasingly being established to contribute to global conservation targets but present an immense challenge for managers as they seek to govern human interactions with the environment over a vast geographical expanse. These challenges are further compounded by the remote location of some MPAs, which magnify the costs of management activities. However, large size and remoteness alone may be insufficient to achieve conservation outcomes in the absence of critical management functions such as environmental monitoring and enforcement. The Australian subantarctic Heard Island and McDonald Islands (HIMI) Marine Reserve is among the world’s most remote MPAs with notoriously harsh oceanographic conditions, and yet the region’s rich mammal and fish resources have been exploited intermittently since the mid-1800s. More recently, the development of lucrative international markets for Patagonian toothfish, sold as Chilean seabass, led to the growth in both legal and illegal fishing. In 2002, to conserve the unique ecology and biodiversity in the area, Australia declared a 65,000 km2 MPA around HIMI. Worldwide, government agencies have, however, struggled to develop cost-effective institutional arrangements for conservation. This paper therefore draws upon the social-ecological systems meta-analysis database (SESMAD) to characterize the structure of conservation governance and outcomes in the HIMI Marine Reserve. The Marine Reserve has generally been successful in supporting a sustainable fishery while addressing threats to biodiversity. The remote and isolated nature of the Marine Reserve was critical to its success, but also benefited greatly from collaborations between managers and the fishing industry. Commercial fishers keep watch over the Reserve while fishing, report any observations of illegal fishing (none since 2006/07), and have at times been asked to verify remote observation of potential illegal fishing vessels. The industry also undertakes annual ecological surveys in the MPA, allowing managers to track environmental trends. The fishing industry itself highlights the importance of industry participation in conservation planning, strengthened by secure access to resources via statutory fishing rights, which provide critical incentives to invest in conservation. We therefore reflect on the potential application of this case to other remote large MPAs, highlighting potential directions for future research.
Spatiotemporal dynamics of ecosystems can challenge the pertinence of Marine Protected Area (MPA) planning. Seasonal environmental changes are extreme in polar regions, however MPA planning in East Antarctica relies mostly on species' summer distribution only. Thirteen Adélie penguins were tracked from Ile des Pétrels (Terre Adélie), and their seasonal distribution and behaviour were compared to the proposed “D'Urville Sea-Mertz” MPA. During the phase of high food-demand preceding moult, penguins used mostly (68.4%) this proposed area. However, following autumnal sea ice extension, penguins migrated north-westwards: overall, 73% of their locations were outside the MPA proposal, and this was up to >99% during winter (in July), the season when penguins maximized their dive depth and time (August and September, respectively). This study thus supports the proposal of implementing a “krill no-take zone” policy in this MPA, in line with the pre-moult foraging of these krill predators in this area. Further protection of the year-round habitats of migratory Adélie penguins could be achieved by inter-connecting the East Antarctic MPA proposals along the ice edge during winter, thereby mirroring the ecosystem's seasonal dynamics.
This paper addresses the question: to what extent do insights from smaller, nearshore marine protected areas (MPAs) regarding the importance of participatory processes apply to large and remote MPAs (LMPAs)? To date there has been little empirical research about stakeholder participation in LMPA designation processes outside of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park context. Through an analysis of documents and 90 interviews collected by two independent research projects, this paper examines the designation process of a U.S. LMPA, the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (MTMNM), which was established in the waters of the U.S. territories of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and Guam through a presidential proclamation under the U.S. Antiquities Act in 2009. Results indicate that overall the designation process for the Monument did not cohere with recommendations from nearshore MPA research about the importance of participation and transparency. Despite widespread support for conservation in that space, the proposed Monument was highly controverial. Stakeholders on all sides of the issue – advocates and opponents alike – expressed criticisms of the designation process. Concerns were related to the speed and perceived top-down nature of the process, the involvement of external entities, and the appropriateness of the process design for the local CNMI context. Data collected showed that much of the opposition to the Monument stemmed from how the process was conducted, rather than opposition to conservation. These findings suggest that a more participatory, collaborative, transparent, and culturally appropriate designation process might have achieved a similar conservation outcome while reducing conflict and enduring resentment. We derive six lessons learned from the MTMNM designation process that may be useful for LMPAs globally. Results suggest that key lessons from conventional MPAs about effective consultation and participation processes can apply to LMPAs, but also that new guidance is needed to account for the unique features of LMPAs.
Under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi biodiversity targets, nations have committed to conserving 10% of the oceans within their territories by 2020. Over the past decade, this goal has driven the establishment of many large marine protected areas (MPAs), several of which surround overseas island territories with current or historical military involvement, ranging from World War 2 battle sites to testing areas for the “ABCs” of atomic, biological, and chemical weapons during the cold war. For countries with significant overseas territories, such as the USA, France, and the UK, these remote possessions provide an opportunity to achieve biodiversity conservation objectives over large spatial scales. They also provide a strategic footprint for regional maritime spheres of influence, as well as possible future energy and mineral resources. Building on insights from terrestrial “militarized” protected areas, and drawing on archival and contemporary sources, this paper examines the multiple motivations behind designating very large MPAs in overseas territories, from protecting biodiversity to more long-term geopolitical, security, and resource-oriented motivations.
Entry fees are often promoted as mechanisms to finance conservation in marine protected areas (MPAs). This case study examined stakeholder perspectives on how a federal government decree to remove protected area entry fees in the Republic of Panama impacted governance quality in the Bastimentos Island National Marine Park (BINMP), in Bocas del Toro. Through interviews and surveys, we found that local stakeholders view poorly monitored and distributed fees as ineffective and contentious. This manuscript demonstrates how fees are perhaps one of the most tangible elements of protected area governance and that quality can be greatly improved through efforts to ensure that local stakeholders have a say in whether or not there is a fee, as well as, how fees are collected and dispersed.