Large-scale marine protected areas (LSMPAs), MPAs greater than 100,000km2, have proliferated in the past decade. However, the value of LSMPAs as conservation tools is debated, in both global scientific and policy venues as well as in particular sites. To add nuance and more diverse voices to this debate, this research examines the perspectives of stakeholders directly engaged with LSMPAs. We conducted a Q Method study with forty LSMPA stakeholders at five sites, including three established LSMPAs (the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, United States; the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati; the National Marine Sanctuary, Palau) and two sites where LSMPAs had been proposed at the time of research (Bermuda and Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile). The analysis reveals five distinct viewpoints of LSMPAs. These include three more optimistic views of LSMPAs we have named Enthusiast, Purist, and Relativist. It also depicts two more cautious views of LSMPAs, which we have named Critic and Skeptic. The findings demonstrate the multi-dimensionality of stakeholder viewpoints on LSMPAs. These shared viewpoints have implications for the global LSMPA debate and LSMPA decision-makers, including highlighting the need to focus on LSMPA consultation processes. Better understanding of these viewpoints, including stakeholder beliefs, perspectives, values and concerns, may help to facilitate more nuanced dialogue amongst LSMPA stakeholders and, in turn, promote better governance of LSMPAs.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
In this perspective paper, we examine the challenges of governance in three marine conservation settings where rights, access to resources and zoning intersect with changing social and ecological conditions: (1) Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area in South Africa; (2) Marine Protected Area of the Northern Coast of São Paulo (APAMLN) in Brazil; and (3) Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve in Canada. Many MPAs and related zoning initiatives are located adjacent to coastal communities that rely on marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods. Thus, processes of zoning must often address local use of natural resources which can be perceived by decision-makers and regulators as problematic. Our analysis highlights how conservation zoning intersects with the perception of diverse stakeholders regarding a range of governance dimensions, including: (1) levels of participation and compliance; (2) the clarity of zoning and conservation objectives; (3) livelihood impacts and benefits; (4) evidence of ecological and conservation benefits; and (5) the influence on sense of place. Pathways forward to address the challenges of governance associated with zoning include the importance of co-producing knowledge for more robust zoning outcomes, and situating zoning processes in a co-management context in which power and authority are more evenly distributed.
Knowledge of the spatial and temporal distribution of green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting is crucial for management of this species. Limited data exist on the nesting patterns of green turtles along the northwestern Gulf of Mexico (GoM) coast. From 1987 to 2019, 211 green turtle nesting activities were documented on the Texas coast, including 111 confirmed nests and 100 non-nesting emergences. Of the 111 nests, 99 were located on North Padre Island (97 at Padre Island National Seashore (PAIS), two north of PAIS) and 12 on South Padre Island (six within the Laguna Atascosa or Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuges (NWR), six outside of a NWR). Of the 100 non-nesting emergences, 75 were on North Padre Island (70 at PAIS, 5 north of PAIS), 21 on South Padre Island (nine within a NWR, 12 outside of a NWR), one on Boca Chica Beach, two on San Jose Island, and one on Mustang Island. Nearly all of the nests (92.8%) and most of the non-nesting emergences (79.0%) were on property protected by the United States Department of the Interior as PAIS or a NWR, and confirmed nest density was largest at PAIS, highlighting the importance of these federally protected lands as nesting habitat for this threatened species. Of the 111 located nests, eight were predated. Mean hatching success of the 103 non-predated nests was 77.4%, and 9,475 hatchlings were released from the predated and non-predated nests. The largest annual number of green turtle nests documented was 29 in 2017. Nesting appeared to increase since 2010, but at a much lower rate than at other GoM nesting beaches. To aid with recovery, efforts should be undertaken to monitor long-term nesting trends, protect nesting turtles and nests, and investigate potential causes for the slower recovery in Texas. Additionally, the genetic structure of the population that nests in Texas should be determined to reveal if the population warrants recognition as a unique management unit, or if it is part of a broader unit that is a shared nesting resource with Mexico which is already being considered as a unique management unit.
Both costs and benefits must be considered when implementing marine protected areas (MPAs), particularly those associated with fishing effort displaced by potential closures. The Southern Ocean offers a case study in understanding such tradeoffs, where MPAs are actively being discussed to achieve a range of protection and sustainable use objectives. Here, we evaluated the possible impacts of two MPA scenarios on the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) fishery and krill-dependent predators in the Scotia Sea, explicitly addressing the displacement of fishing from closed areas. For both scenarios, we employed a minimally realistic, spatially explicit ecosystem model and considered three alternative redistributions of displaced fishing. We projected both MPAs to provide positive outcomes for many krill-dependent predators, especially when closed areas included at least 50–75% of their foraging distributions. Further, differences between the scenarios suggest ways to improve seal and penguin protection in the Scotia Sea. MPA scenarios also projected increases in total fishery yields, but alongside risks of fishing in areas where relatively low krill densities could cause the fishery to suspend operations. The three alternatives for redistributing displaced fishing had little effect on benefits to predators, but did matter for the fishery, with greater differences in overall catch and risk of fishing in areas of low krill density when displaced fishing was redistributed evenly among the open areas. Collectively, results suggest a well-designed MPA in the Scotia Sea may protect krill-dependent predators, even with displaced fishing, and preclude further spatial management of the krill fishery outside the MPA. More broadly, outcomes denote the importance of delineating fishing and predator habitat, spatial scales, and the critical trade-offs inherent in MPA development.
Global climate change is driving the redistribution of marine species and thereby potentially restructuring endemic communities. Understanding how localised conservation measures such as protection from additional human pressures can confer resilience to ecosystems is therefore an important area of research. Here, we examine the resilience of a no-take marine reserve (NTR) to the establishment of urchin barrens habitat. The barrens habitat is created through overgrazing of kelp by an invading urchin species that is expanding its range within a hotspot of rapid climate change. In our study region, a multi-year monitoring program provides a unique time-series of benthic imagery collected by an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) within an NTR and nearby reference areas. We use a Bayesian hierarchical spatio-temporal modelling approach to estimate whether the NTR is associated with reduced formation of urchin barrens, and thereby enhances local resilience. Our approach controls for the important environmental covariates of depth and habitat complexity (quantified as rugosity derived from multibeam sonar mapping), as well as spatial and temporal dependence. We find evidence for the NTR conferring resilience with a strong reserve effect that suggests improved resistance to the establishment of barrens. However, we find a concerning and consistent trajectory of increasing barrens cover in both the reference areas and the NTR, with the odds of barrens increasing by approximately 32% per year. Thus, whereas the reserve is demonstrating resilience to the initial establishment of barrens, there is currently no evidence of recovery once barrens are established. We also find that depth and rugosity covariates derived from multibeam mapping provide useful predictors for barrens occurrence. These results have important management implications as they demonstrate: (i) the importance of monitoring programs to inform adaptive management; (ii) that NTRs provide a potential local conservation management tool under climate change impacts, and (iii) that technologies such as AUVs and multibeam mapping can be harnessed to inform regional decision-making. Continuation of the current monitoring program is required to assess whether the NTR can provide long term protection from a phase shift that replaces kelp with urchin barrens.
Monitoring compliance and enforcing laws are integral to ensuring the success of marine protected areas (MPAs), but traditional monitoring techniques are costly and resource demanding. Three SoundTrap 300 recorders were deployed for one month between 1 July and September 12, 2018 to collect acoustic data in two marine parks off southeastern Australia: one recorder in Cod Grounds Marine Park (CGMP) and two in the Solitary Islands Marine Park National Park Zone (SIMP NPZ). Extractive activities such as fishing are not permitted in these zones. Raven Pro 2.0 was used to analyze data for vessel presence. Transmission loss equations for each site were generated using patrol boat GPS tracks and used to predict if acoustically recorded vessels were inside park boundaries based on received sound levels. In CGMP, 41 vessels were predicted within the park during the recording period; 34 vessels were predicted within the SIMP NPZ. Thursdays and Saturdays were identified as peak days for vessel presence in CGMP while Thursdays were the peak day in the SIMP NPZ. Most vessel activity at both locations took place between 06:00 and 17:00 AEST. Peak vessel presence in CGMP occurred at 09:00 AEST while the peak vessel presence in the SIMP NPZ occurred at 16:00 AEST. Approximately 12.7 h of vessel sounds were recorded within CGMP; approximately 3.8 h of vessel noise were recorded within the SIMP NPZ. Passive acoustic monitoring of vessel patterns in Australian Marine Parks has provided valuable insight to redirect compliance decisions on how to focus surveillance efforts.
The human footprint on earth is now so great that we must become environmental stewards. To encourage stewardship and achieve better conservation outcomes, research is needed to connect practice with sound theory, and to empirically measure stewardship so we can identify its predictors and motivators.
In this study, we use mixed methods to develop a new quantitative indicator for local environmental stewardship in a coastal context. We interviewed 111 people in eastern Australia about their knowledge and use of the coast and extracted information on seven generalised stewardship actions. We combined these into a single indicator which allowed us to evaluate and compare stewardship levels between participants and develop quantitative models.
We found that stewardship was predicted by four traits: attraction to marine wildlife, self-identifying as local, size of local social network, and norms regarding informal enforcement. High-stewardship individuals exhibited eco-centric and anthropocentric worldviews and were motivated by a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic factors. We combined these with stewardship actions in a refined model which highlights the importance of people, policy and place in environmental stewardship.
We believe this is the first study to quantify stewardship behaviour and its motivating factors in a broad social-ecological context spanning both terrestrial and marine realms. Our research allows stewardship to be measured, modelled and analysed via a transferable indicator. This enables a deeper understanding of local environmental stewardship and the factors that predict and motivate it and allows us to propose practical strategies to engage people to improve stewardship and conservation outcomes.
The Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (NECSMNM) was designated by President Barack Obama in 2016, using his authority under the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Act allows a President to proclaim as national monuments “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” that are “upon the lands owned or controlled” by the United States but to reserve each designation to “the smallest area compatible with the proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” Protection in general excludes commercial scale extraction and is in perpetuity. Here we present analyses of physiographic and ecological datasets that facilitated assessment of the conservation benefits of protections for a new monument. We also review and synthesize the ecological literature to describe processes that operate in continental margin and deep-sea settings, in order to demonstrate the monument area is bounded for proper management and is an object of scientific interest. Results indicate that the current monument designation is an area of high diversity and ecological connectivity across depths and along the continental margin. The monument boundaries contain hot spots (areas of high abundance and species richness) for seafloor communities (inclusive of benthic invertebrate and demersal fish) as well as marine mammals in the epipelagic. Many species are sensitive to disturbance and vulnerable to human activities (e.g., deep-sea corals and sponges) with very long recovery times and extremely low resilience. The monument contains at least nine exemplars of offshore northwest Atlantic marine wildlife communities and habitats (e.g., deep shelf invertebrates, shelf fish, deep sea corals and sponges in canyons and on seamounts, deep sea fish, chemosynthetic communities, deep sea soft sediment, shelf edge cetaceans, and seabirds). The region is relatively undisturbed and can serve as a reference site to focus future research on ecological processes in an increasingly industrialized ocean and one subject to the synergies of regional climate effects. These results suggest that there is great potential for discovery and novel research in this first Atlantic Ocean Marine National Monument.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) can contribute to protecting biodiversity and managing ocean activities, including fishing. There is, however, limited evidence of ecological responses to blue water MPAs. We conducted the first comprehensive evaluation of impacts on fisheries production and ecological responses to pelagic MPAs of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. A Bayesian time series-based counterfactual modelling approach using fishery-dependent data was used to compare the temporal response in the MPAs to three reference regions for standardized catch rates, lengths, trophic level of the catch and species diversity. Catch rates of bigeye tuna, the main target species (Kingman/Palmyra MPA, causal effect probability >99% of an 84% reduction; 95% credible interval: -143%, -25%), and blue shark (Johnston MPAs, causal effect probability >95%) were significantly lower and longnose lancetfish significantly higher (Johnston MPAs, causal effect probability >95%) than predicted had the MPAs not been established, possibly from closing areas near shallow features, which aggregate pelagic predators, and from ‘fishing-the-line’. There were no apparent causal impacts of the MPAs on species diversity, lengths and trophic level of the catch, perhaps because the MPAs were young, were too small, did not contain critical habitat for specific life-history stages, had been lightly exploited or experienced fishing-the-line. We also assessed model-standardized catch rates for species of conservation concern and mean trophic level of the catch within and outside of MPAs. Displaced effort produced multi-species conflicts: MPAs protect bycatch hotspots and hotspots of bycatch-to-target catch ratios for some at-risk species, but coldspots for others. Mean trophic level of the catch was significantly higher around MPAs, likely due to the aggregating effect of the shallow features and there having been light fishing pressure within MPAs. These findings demonstrate how exploring a wide range of ecological responses supports evidence-based evaluations of blue water MPAs.
The efficacy of large marine protected areas (MPA) for the conservation of mobile pelagic species is widely debated. Here, we quantified spatial and temporal trends in standardized catch per unit effort (CPUE) of two target pelagic species, yellowfin (Thunnus albacares) and bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) in the Indian Ocean to analyze the impact of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) MPA’s creation in 2010. We applied generalized additive mixed effects models to historical BIOT longline fishery logbooks and official catch and effort statistics from the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) to standardize CPUEs and to evaluate long-term trends and distribution patterns across the equatorial Indian Ocean. We find that trends in population indices from within BIOT prior to the MPA’s establishment mirror those of the wider Indian Ocean. We also suggest that there may be behavioral plasticity within the yellowfin tuna stock, with some individuals possibly undertaking alternative migration patterns or exhibiting residency behavior within BIOT. Yet, we find no direct evidence of any improvement in standardized CPUE indices of either species in the area surrounding the BIOT MPA, nearly 8 years after its establishment. The average size of yellowfin and bigeye tunas caught both increased after the MPA’s establishment. These patterns were also evident across the equatorial Indian Ocean, suggesting that any MPA effect is in combination with other regional drivers, such as behavioral changes in the fishing fleets in response to the threat of Somali Piracy. We therefore conclude that BIOT MPA may be providing local conservation value to tunas, but it is not significant enough to halt the overall regional decline in yellowfin tuna stocks. Thus, we emphasize that large MPAs should be considered in conjunction with other fishery management regulations and wider regional processes, rather than as a silver bullet, in order to provide the conservation and management benefits needed for mobile species like tunas.