This study provides a synthesis of current scientific evidence on the ecological and socio-economic effects of highly protected marine areas (HPMAs), primarily in temperate waters. The aim was to establish if HPMAs can provide benefits beyond those afforded by other types of marine protected area (MPA). We identify critical interactions within and between ecological and socio-economic effects to help marine planners and managers make informed decisions about the trade-offs of alternate management actions or measures for MPAs. Well-designed and enforced MPAs with high levels of protection (HPMAs) often provide conservation benefits within their boundaries beyond those afforded by other types of MPA. Much remains to be learned about the socio-economic effects of HPMAs. Empirical evidence to date suggests that potential benefits cannot all be maximised simultaneously because potentially conflicting trade-offs exist not only between but also within ecological and socio-economic effects. Marine planners and managers must be able to evaluate the impact and distribution of trade-offs for differing management regimes; to make informed decisions about levels of protection required in MPAs to ensure sustainable use of marine resources and meet conservation objectives. One of the main challenges remains providing evidence of the societal benefits from restricting use in these areas.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
The specific objectives of this document are:
- To initiate a sustainable socio-economic approach applied to the context of Mediterranean MPAs.
- To strengthen the socio-economic role of Mediterranean MPAs.
- To guide MPA managers and stakeholders towards income generating activities in MPAs and surrounding territories.
- To change the perception of decision-makers on MPAs as a natural capital investment project.
- To guide integrated marine and coastal conservation policies in the Mediterranean.
To the extent, this document represents an interesting piece of work for MPAs programme staff, economists, scientists, decision-makers in charge of the management of marine and coastal natural resources in the Mediterranean countries that are Contracting Parties in the Barcelona Convention.
There has been a recent proliferation of large‐scale marine protected areas (MPAs) containing pelagic habitats. These contribute substantially toward meeting the area‐based goal of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 and to managing pelagic ecosystem pressures, including fishing. We assessed theoretical and empirical evidence for the achievement of ecological objectives by static and dynamic spatial management of pelagic fisheries. Exceptionally few studies have assessed ecological responses to MPAs that constrain pelagic fisheries, leaving substantial uncertainty over their efficacy. Assessments have provided a limited basis for causal inferences and have not evaluated whether other management tools would be more effective. Pelagic MPAs have relatively high promise to mitigate fisheries bycatch of species of conservation concern with “slow” life history traits and that form temporally and spatially predictable hotspots, and for some species, to protect habitats important for critical life history stages. It would be challenging to design MPAs to maintain absolute biomass levels of target stocks near targets and above limits: MPAs would need to be extensive to account for broad and variable distributions, and account for catch risk outside of the MPA, including from displaced fishing effort and fishing‐the‐line. For non‐overexploited stocks, which is the status of most target pelagic species and their prey, there would likely be little response in absolute stock biomass to an MPA. While pelagic MPAs have a higher promise of increasing target stocks’ local abundance, evidence with a robust basis for inferring causality is needed. Reducing fishing mortality of prey species might not affect the biomass of their pelagic predators because prey species experience light fishing pressure and because there may be a weak correlation between the absolute abundance of forage fish and their predators. There is an especially limited basis for predicting the effects of MPAs on fisheries‐induced evolution (FIE) in pelagic species. We describe how pelagic MPAs could be designed to achieve five ecological objectives without causing cross‐taxa conflicts and exacerbating FIE. To fill substantial gaps in knowledge, we prescribe counterfactual‐based modeling of time series data of standardized catch records to infer causation in assessments of ecological responses to pelagic MPAs.
In partially protected marine areas, such as recreational fishing havens (RFHs), fishery‐independent surveys and recreational angler surveys represent two of the few available methods of collecting length‐frequency data to monitor population responses to protection from commercial fishing and the impacts of ongoing recreational fishing. Although length data plays an important role in facilitating stock assessment and monitoring within RFHs, little is known about the relative magnitude and direction of size‐selective biases introduced by fishery‐independent surveys and angler surveys. This study quantitatively compared length data derived from the two methods for three exploited species or taxa (bream species complex of Acanthopagrus spp. [hybrid complex of Black Bream A. butcheri × Yellowfin Bream A. australis], Dusky Flathead Platycephalus fuscus, and Sand Whiting Sillago ciliata) sampled from two estuarine RFHs in Australia. When all lengths sampled by each method were compared, the species‐specific length frequencies derived from angler surveys and fishery‐independent surveys differed significantly in all cases but for Dusky Flathead from one RFH. Following standardization for minimum‐legal‐length restrictions, the angler survey method captured a more representative spectrum of lengths for Acanthopagrus spp. For Dusky Flathead, angler surveys and fishery‐independent surveys performed equally in terms of the lengths captured. Although length frequencies for Sand Whiting above minimum legal length differed significantly between the methods in both RFHs, spatial inconsistencies precluded a clear conclusion for this species. The fact that neither method consistently outperformed the other across all species supports the idea that using both angler surveys and fishery‐independent surveys in a complimentary manner may enable a clearer understanding of size compositions across multiple species for monitoring and stock assessment purposes and thereby facilitate an ecosystem‐based approach to fishery assessment and management.
This study examined the effects of SCUBA bubbles on fish counts in underwater visual surveys conducted in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM). Specifically, paired fish surveys were conducted at each survey site, utilizing two different gear types: open-circuit SCUBA (OC) and closed-circuit rebreather (CCR). Bubble exhaust released from the OC equipment is a potential source of bias for in-situ fish observations, as the associated audio and visual disturbances could either attract or repel fishes depending on whether their behavior is more driven by curiosity or caution. The study area, is a large (~1.5 million km2) and extremely remote marine protected area in which the response of coral reef fishes to divers represent natural behavior of naive fishes with little or no previous contact with humans. Historically, surveys conducted on OC in this area have shown an abundance of large roving piscivores and this study set out to determine the extant, if any, the audible and visual disturbances of OC bubbles have. The species typically seen in these prior surveys were Caranx ignobilis, Caranx melampygus, Aprion virescens, and a couple of species of sharks. We found differences in counts for some roving piscivores, including significantly more jacks observed on OC than CCR (Caranx ignobilis 57% more, and Caranx melampygus 113% more). Instance of first encounter, i.e. the time when a fish was first observed during a survey, also varied for some species. Higher numbers of Aprion virescens (p = 0.04), and C. melampygus (p = <0.001) were observed in the first 5-minutes of counts by divers on OC (i.e. when they were using breathing apparatus that produced noises that could be heard over long distances). Although not the focus of the study, we also assessed differences between OC and CCR counts for other groups of fishes. Estimated abundance of benthic damselfish was higher on OC than CCR, and counts of butterflyfish were lower on OC; but there were no significant differences for the other groups considered. This is an important control study that documents the natural responses of coral reef fishes to SCUBA bubbles generated by in-situ surveys.
- Marine protected areas (MPAs) can be effective tools for marine resource management. However, despite evidence of the positive effects of MPAs, such as increases in body sizes of organisms targeted by fisheries, there is often heterogeneity in biological outcomes among them.
- Because fishing can drastically impact fish populations, the goal of this study was to determine if the levels of exploitation prior to protection could predict variation in the magnitude of MPA effects.
- Using a diver‐operated stereo–video camera system, we compared sizes of fishes targeted by anglers within seven MPAs spanning the Southern California Bight to nearby comparison areas (non‐MPAs). We used fine‐scale data on pre‐closure fishing pressure to test responses of fishes to protection along a gradient of exploitation.
- Fish size responded to protection in proportion to pre‐closure fishing pressure, with MPAs in areas with high pre‐closure fishing having greater responses in average lengths and size distributions than those in areas with low fishing pressure.
- This response was evident in species heavily targeted by recreational fishing, but not in species that were not targeted in fisheries.
- Synthesis and applications. Pre‐closure fishing pressure of an area can impact the efficacy of MPAs, and, when available, should be considered when predicting and evaluating MPA performance. Prioritizing heavily exploited areas for protection when implementing spatial management tools could maximize ecological outcomes.
A comprehensive research study of Cabeza de Toro and Punta Cana’s fishing and tourism industries reveal viability of economic solutions between the hospitality industry, fishermen, and the government to reduce practices harmful to the coastal marine ecosystem. Recent research studies of Punta Cana and Cabeza de Toro’s coastal marine ecosystem demonstrate diminishing coral coverage and reduced fish populations. Causes for the decline of the coastal marine ecosystem include overfishing, illegal fishing of species conducive to coral health, and the destruction of mangrove sanctuaries. By methods of survey and in-person interview, researchers gathered data on over 20% of Cabeza de Toro’s fisherman population with the intent of further developing a co-management plan for the recently established marine protected area. Data collection included qualitative and quantitative research into income and livelihoods of Cabeza de Toro fishermen, fishing practices, interest in alternative work opportunities, and strength of social responsibility and environmental beliefs. Findings demonstrate that viable economic applications exist in forging partnerships between fishermen, the tourism and hospitality industries, and the local government.
Coral reef refugia are habitats which possess physical, biological and ecological characteristics that make them likely to be relatively resilient to future climate change. Identification of refugia locations will be important to ensure suitable marine conservation planning is undertaken to protect sites where coral ecosystems will be better preserved now and in the future. This paper presents (1) a review of current knowledge of the oceanographic conditions and coral community in the Revillagigedo Archipelago Large Scale Marine Protected Area, (2) the first assessment of the potential for the Revillagigedo Archipelago to act as a climate refugia site for corals and coral reefs in the eastern tropical Pacific, and (3) consequent management and learning opportunities, to inform reef conservation both locally and globally. Through utilising published literature, remote and in situ environmental data, and field observations it was found that the Revillagigedo area exhibits a combination of distinctive characteristics in the coral community and in oceanographic processes which support conditions of refugia. The potential for refugia is further enhanced due to the absence of significant secondary anthropogenic stressors. This leads to a recommendation to establish the Revillagigedo as a globally significant ‘sentinel site’ where, through long-term monitoring of oceanographic conditions and of the coral and associated ecosystems, the effects of climate change can be quantified, and the effectiveness of specific refugia attributes established. This information may then be used to underpin the recognition of potential coral refugia elsewhere, and to guide MPA designation and management decisions to enhance their effectiveness.
No-take marine protected areas (MPAs) are an important tool for conserving marine biodiversity and managing fisheries. However, with increasing environmental change driven by local and global stressors, it is critical to understand whether MPAs can continue to provide social, economic and conservation benefits in the long-term. Here, we compare coral reef benthic and fish assemblages across 17 paired MPA-fished control sites on three heavily populated, high elevation “mainland” islands, and four lowly populated, low elevation “offshore” islands that differed in their exposure to recent typhoons. Despite lower cover of macroalgae in MPAs compared to fished areas, especially on mainland islands, there were no consistent differences in benthic assemblages or total hard coral cover between paired MPA and fished reefs. Typhoons had severe negative effects on live hard coral cover, regardless of island type or MPA protection, and typhoon impacted reefs supported different fish assemblages and lower total biomass of fish, compared to non-impacted reefs. Although fish assemblage structure and total biomass differed between mainland and offshore islands, MPAs consistently supported a higher total biomass of fish than fished areas, with the magnitude of the MPA effect lower on typhoon impacted reefs. Our findings suggest that despite inherent differences in environmental conditions between mainland and offshore island coral reefs, MPAs can provide benefits to fish biomass, even when reefs are affected by typhoons. The development of management strategies that incorporate sound coastal land-use practices, while positioning MPAs in areas less prone to typhoon impact, will provide MPAs the best chance of success if climatic extremes increase.
Natural protected areas are often required to concurrently support conservation and tourism development. Estimating the ecosystem's carrying capacity and setting up visitor access limitations is a common approach in maximising resource use to avoid environmental degradation. Our research used a case study strategy and a political ecology approach to analyse the conflict surrounding a carrying capacity-based management plan implemented in a Mediterranean marine protected area under severe pressure from scuba diving. A mixed documental and discourse analysis method based on fieldwork, grey literature and 16 semi-structured interviews with representatives of seven groups of stakeholders was used. Results indicate that although the carrying capacity approach was instrumentally supported by all groups, conventional scientific ecological knowledge played only a specious role in decision-making. Factors related to path dependency, neoliberal governance frameworks, uneven distribution of power among stakeholders and regulatory weaknesses were found to be the most influential in facilitating increased visitor pressure in the reserve. We conclude that, in order to be effective and mitigate social conflict, natural resource management strategies based on the carrying capacity concept must be complemented with a precursory assessment of the biopolitical context to align the goals of planning with the possibilities of the socially constructed environment.