February 2019 (20:6)

Issue PDF archive:

As the global MPA community approaches the 2020 deadline for meeting Aichi Target 11, it must achieve two potentially very different goals. There is the numerical goal of covering 10% of coastal and marine areas in MPAs. And there is the qualitative goal that the conservation be achieved through “effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems” of protected areas.

Achieving the numerical goal will be easier than the rest.

Take the UK, for instance. By the end of 2018, the nation had 297 MPAs that covered 23% of its marine estate (not including the UK’s vast Overseas Territories like Chagos or the Pitcairn Islands). That 23% figure looks impressive compared to the Aichi Target’s 10%. Yet the UK has only four MPAs that are completely no-take. And just 1.6% of the nation’s marine area is closed to bottom trawling.

So are the UK’s MPAs effectively managed? As reported in MPA News, recent research suggests that “weakly regulated” MPAs – i.e., sites that allow high-impact gear types like bottom trawling – yield few if any direct conservation benefits, due to the impact of their allowed uses. In other words, such sites are generally ineffective for biodiversity protection.

With the 2020 deadline approaching, it seems likely that we will see a lot of analyses of national MPA systems – as governments race to meet the numerical goal of Aichi Target 11, and as academics and NGOs simultaneously assess the qualitative goal.

Among the first of these reality checks was by Jean-Luc Solandt, published in Biodiversity journal last year on England's MPA system. Solandt, of the Marine Conservation Society in the UK, says his nation is falling well short of the protection needed to meet the international target. MPA News spoke with him.

MPA News: You write that although some habitats have been protected as part of England’s MPA network, the system as a whole is not truly effective for providing ecosystem-based management. And this is partly due to the uses that continue to be allowed in most of the MPAs, like bottom trawling.

Jean-Luc Solandt: Correct. This is why we published the MPA Reality Check website, which provides insights on how fully England is protecting and managing its marine environment.

MPA News: As the 2020 deadline approaches for Aichi Target 11, other countries might implement MPA systems that similarly meet the 10% numerical goal but arguably fall short of the effectiveness requirements. What advice do you have for MPA planners in other nations on how to avoid the situation in which the UK finds itself?

Solandt: My advice to planners is that designating MPAs without including a pre-ordained zoned management plan is easy but ineffectual. For example, the re-zoning of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and California’s MLPA process were better examples of how to designate MPAs with teeth: i.e., agree on the management during the discourse about designation, not after the site has been designated. Front-loading the agreement gives clarity on what MPAs should be for from the outset – the recovery and protection of particular habitats.

MPA News: You point out in your paper that England's current MPAs do include a broad and representative selection of habitats, but they generally only protect the vulnerable "remnant" parts – where damage is not yet apparent – while most of the rest is left to be trawled or otherwise exploited.

Solandt: Yes. Strengthening the non-remnant parts of UK MPAs needs to be more of a priority. There was a wonderfully effective campaign by Save Scottish Seas (a campaign consortium of Scottish Wildlife NGOs) called “Don’t take the ‘P’ out of MPAs”, which emphasized the benefits of protecting all parts of MPAs, not just the remnant portions. This brilliant campaign received over 5000 supportive statements from the public when Scottish Government was consulting on setting protection measures for entire suites of habitats surrounding specific vulnerable features. It ended up in ‘whole-sites’ being protected. This is now a management approach of interest to England’s authorities (Scotland has been moving to such an approach since 2015).

MPA News: Have you encountered anyone who uses the large UK Overseas Territory MPAs as an argument for why MPAs in domestic UK waters don't need to be so strongly regulated – i.e., because the large territorial MPAs already take care of that?

Solandt: That would be a nonsensical argument. Compared to domestic UK waters, Overseas Territories are much less affected by bottom trawls over large areas or general overfishing of natural trophic levels. Therefore the overseas sites are at a starting point of needing protection from future exploitation. In contrast, domestic UK waters need recovery from 130+ years of bottom trawling, ports, poor water quality, estuary development, habitat loss, and so forth. So the requirements of marine conservation are markedly different in the Overseas Territories compared to domestic waters.

MPA News: The current Brexit situation – in which the UK is expected to exit the European Union this year – seems to be somewhat of a mess, with British Parliament having trouble agreeing on a route to leaving the EU. You have written previously on how Brexit could impact UK MPAs. With the negotiations up in the air right now, do you have anything to add on this?

Solandt: If the UK does leave the EU, I don’t trust that the negotiations between our current national government and the EU to enable that exit will support effective MPAs in offshore UK waters. Granted, whilst we remain in the EU, MPA management in these waters is negotiated through failed EU processes that have contributed to the UK’s currently ineffective MPA system. [Editor’s note: See the box, below, “A quick guide to the complications of UK marine jurisdiction” for an explanation of the EU processes.] But if/when we leave the EU, MPA management will effectively be traded off against markets for fish with EU states. That could leave MPAs at the bottom of priorities, and you could see sites de-designated or re-designated (with even less-protective management plans). That being said, things can't be that much worse than the current insipid approach to ocean recovery that we have. We still have only four no-take MPAs measuring about 21 km2 in total, and just 1.6% of our seas is closed to bottom trawls. This is after years of advocacy and support.

For more information:

Jean-Luc Solandt, Marine Conservation Society, UK. Email: Jean-Luc.Solandt [at] mcsuk.org

Box: A quick guide to the complications of UK marine jurisdiction

0-12 nm from shore: These are the territorial waters for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Combined, these four countries make up the UK.

0-6 nm from shore: In these inshore territorial waters, management of MPAs and fisheries is the responsibility of the adjacent country, whether England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland. There is no fishing by other EU member states in these waters.

6-12 nm from shore: In some parts of these outer territorial waters, there are historical fishing rights for some other EU member states. This can lead to complications over getting fishing bans in place as other member states can have their say.

12-200 nm from shore: These are the UK’s offshore waters. Any MPA in these waters designated by any of the four countries of the UK must have any fishing regulations (to support MPA conservation objectives) signed off by the EU Commission. “This is highly politicized,” says Jean-Luc Solandt, “and has so far failed because of the ability of any fishing-interest state to essentially veto/delay/block any plan because of national commercial fishing interest. Not one square kilometer of fishing ban has happened in the past 10 years in any offshore UK MPA because of this. Indeed, in order to get measures through this multi-member state process, it's likely that management will be watered down so much that it becomes meaningless.”

UK Overseas Territories: The UK has exclusive rights to manage the 200-nm EEZ around its Overseas Territories. This makes both designation and management of MPAs in these waters much easier. The decision-making is up to the UK Foreign Office and local Overseas Territory administrations, with input from other UK governmental, academic, and NGO institutions. “This is why there is a great deal of ‘win’ happening in the UK Overseas Territories marine environment,” says Solandt, referring to the designation of large, strongly protected MPAs in the Chagos Archipelago, Pitcairn Islands, and elsewhere. “In contrast, to get any fisheries management in offshore MPAs for domestic UK seas from 12-200 nm, you need a hell of a lot of good lawyers, long-term campaigning, energy, tolerance, and language skills – and a free diary for 10+ years.”


Dear MPA News,

I am writing in response to your article “Sharpening our focus on MPAs for 2020 and beyond: The emerging consensus on what is and is not an MPA, and the key types of MPAs” (Dec 2018 / Jan 2019).

I am somewhat challenged by the standards advanced by IUCN and others to constrain what we should consider an “MPA” to only those places where the primary objective is nature conservation. There are, around the world, many important marine sites where management is primarily focused on preservation of historic and cultural heritage resources. Under the new IUCN standards, these sites would no longer be considered MPAs. As these are places in the ocean and along the coasts that are permanently preserved under law or policy, and as they possess management plans that guide effective stewardship of these resources, it seems to me a bit arrogant to exclude such areas from being considered marine protected areas. This seems inconsistent with other ways we identify and recognize places worthy of protection, such as World Heritage Sites, which can include either (or both) natural and cultural heritage resources of outstanding universal value.  

Clearly we could do a far more effective job of conserving natural resources and biodiversity in our MPAs, and we are facing considerable challenges to successfully accomplish this goal. But I have some difficulty believing that adopting a new definition of MPA that excludes cultural heritage-focused MPAs will lead to much-needed improvements in natural resource and biodiversity-focused MPAs. The effective preservation of all coastal and marine resources, whether natural or cultural, demands public support and engagement. The challenges faced by MPA managers in preserving both categories of resources are much the same, and the list of human activities that degrade and diminish them is quite similar. There is strong and broad public interest in and support for preserving cultural heritage resources. So why would the MPA community do anything that would marginalize this important constituency of support for marine protection and conservation?         

As you may remember, this is not the first time I have offered some comment to MPA News regarding issues related to the how we define MPAs, as the terminology employed is often subject to whims of creative wordsmithing that confound and confuse rather than clarify. Undoubtedly words do matter, and how we define MPAs should be universally adopted and endorsed. However, a myopic and, in my view, misguided attempt to focus the definition of MPA on only natural resources and biodiversity preservation is contrary to the interests of effective preservation. Fostering public support for resource conservation should be as encompassing as possible, and marginalizing one large component of that support is not likely a viable path forward.  

I offer this comment as a member of the MPA community, as an individual MPA practitioner with many decades of experience, and in no way reflecting the views or positions of any agency or university with which I am affiliated. I just felt that a contrary perspective was needed, hopefully to encourage more debate and dialogue regarding this idea for redefining “MPA”. The challenges facing us are considerable, and we can ill afford to act in a way that further divides our community from its common interests and goals. 

Brad Barr

Editor’s note: Rafael Magris is an environmental analyst at the Brazilian national agency for biodiversity conservation – ICMBio. He is lead author on the new study “A modelling approach to assess the impact of land mining on marine biodiversity: Assessment in coastal catchments experiencing catastrophic events (SW Brazil)”, which is described in this essay.

By Rafael Magris

In November 2015, 39 million cubic meters of metal-contaminated slurry polluted riverine and coastal waters in southwestern Brazil when a tailings dam failure occurred in a headwater of the Doce River catchment. (A tailings dam is used to store wastes from mining operations.) The plume of contaminated sediment ultimately reached several sensitive marine habitats including coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and habitats formed by coralline crustose algae. Much of the sediment accumulated in two marine protected areas – Santa Cruz Wildlife Refuge and Costa das Algas Environmental Protection Area.

Marine protected areas by themselves are generally ineffective at reducing land-based disturbances: this is because an MPA’s jurisdiction normally ends at its boundary line. Therefore broader management approaches like integrated coastal zone management should be used to help account for threats that originate in one realm (terrestrial) but affect another (marine).

However, analyses of the impacts of terrestrial threats on marine areas tend to focus on diffuse sources of pollution such as nutrient runoff from agriculture, use of pesticides in forestry plantations, and resulting phytoplankton blooms. No one to my knowledge has specifically addressed the risk effects of catastrophic events on downstream marine systems, such as those associated with the sudden collapse of tailings dams. 

A new modeling approach

In this new study, my research team provides a modeling approach to predict the cumulative impact of past and ongoing sediment disturbances related to a tailings dam failure, using the Doce River as our case. We examined a range of coastal ecosystems that differed in their ability to tolerate these stressors. We applied a hydrological model that built on sediment transport estimates following a tailings dam spill event, and acknowledged that disturbances were temporally dynamic. Then we coupled estimated sediment loads discharged by the river with hydrodynamic models to simulate the dispersal of pollutants in the sea.

We determined that the Doce River exported 74 million tons of sediment after the tailings dam accident. In contrast, normal sediment export would have been just 2.5 million tons over the same period. By tracking the accumulation of sediment on the sea, we could estimate the footprint of the accident, spreading over nearshore habitats such as coral reefs on the Abrolhos Bank, the most biodiversity-rich area in the South Atlantic Ocean. We also found that primary producers were particularly sensitive to sediment concentration increases (e.g., crustose coralline algae forming rhodolith beds, as well as seagrasses) and were thus heavily impacted.

Although we focused our approach on the Doce River catchment, the approach is flexible and can be applied to diverse potential catastrophes with occurrences that are episodic in both time and space (e.g., landslide hazards, coastal cliff failure). It is also applicable to all types of ecosystems beyond those addressed in our case. Integrating modeling like this will allow MPAs to refine their vulnerability assessments in a more complete way, and detect trends in ecosystem integrity over time.

It should be noted that just three years after the Doce River dam collapse, another tailings dam burst in the same region of Brazil. In the latest case the watershed is more heavily fragmented, so sediment will deposit more gradually than the Doce collapse along the river’s course due to the presence of hydroelectric power plants and reservoirs. With the ongoing push for economic development, tailings dam failures like these are becoming a more common threat to aquatic ecosystems.

For more information:

Rafael Magris, James Cook University. Email: rafael.magris [at] my.jcu.edu.au

For a video animation showing a model of the spread of the Doce River sediment plume after the 2015 accident, click here.

Editor’s note: Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara are co-chairs of the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force.

By Erich Hoyt and Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara

In late January 2019, the IUCN Marine Mammal Protected Areas Task Force announced approval of 30 new Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs) in the North East Indian Ocean and South East Asian Seas Region. IMMAs are areas of habitat that are important to marine mammal species, and which have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation. On a map, IMMAs are “marine mammal layers” intended to spotlight areas that may lead to MPAs or other conservation outcomes, such as ship route or noise reduction directives, and may be used in the course of marine spatial planning. 

The new IMMAs include habitats from the Coastal Northern Bay of Bengal off Bangladesh with one of the world’s healthiest populations of Irrawaddy dolphins; to the Babuyan Marine Corridor in northern Philippines, an important breeding habitat for humpback whales; to eastern Indonesia and the Coral Triangle region for blue, Bryde’s and Omura’s whales, as well as spinner, pantropical, and other dolphin species.

In addition to the new IMMAs, 7 proposed areas in the region will remain as candidate IMMAs (cIMMAs) pending further research, and 32 habitats are considered areas of interest (AoI). For an IMMA to be finalized, it must pass the Task Force’s review process.

The newly declared IMMAs were the result of an expert workshop held in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo in March 2018. Some 29 experts from 17 countries attended the week-long meeting. The final report of the North East Indian Ocean and South East Asian Seas IMMA Workshop is now available for download.

Additional task force work

Later in 2018, in follow-up to the Borneo workshop and to implement one of the identified North East Indian Ocean IMMAs, the Task Force assembled an expert team comprised of six Indian and four international experts. Together, they traveled to the Andaman Islands off India to devise a strategy for implementation of a dugong IMMA in the Andamans as well as a diverse cetacean AoI. The report is here.

Also in 2018, the Task Force negotiated the Southern Ocean IMMA Workshop, and the resulting 15 candidate IMMAs will shortly enter the Task Force’s review process. Next the IMMA team travels across the Southern Hemisphere with workshops delineating marine mammal habitats in the Western Indian Ocean and Arabian Seas (March 2019), Australia-New Zealand waters and South East Indian Ocean (2020) and the South East Tropical and Temperate Pacific Ocean (2021).

The five IMMA Southern Hemisphere workshops (2017-2021) are sponsored as part of the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative through the German government’s International Climate Initiative (GOBI-IKI). The other main supporters of the IMMA effort have been the the Mava Foundation (for the Mediterranean region) and the Agence Française pour la Biodiversité (AFB) through IUCN (for the Extended Southern Ocean). Other sponsors include the Tethys Research Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), the International Committee on Marine Mammal Protected Areas, and the Eulabor Institute. The preparation of IMMA criteria and establishing support for the IMMA concept was funded by Animal Welfare Institute, Pacific Life Foundation, The Ocean Foundation, the US Marine Mammal Commission, Tethys, and WDC, among others.

For more information:

Erich Hoyt. Email: erich.hoyt [at] mac.com

Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara. Email: disciara [at] gmail.com


These recent articles or preprints on MPA-related science and policy are all free to access.

Article: Rolim, F. A. et al. Network of small no-take marine reserves reveals greater abundance and body size of fisheries target species. PLOS ONE 14, e0204970 (2019).

Finding: This study of Brazilian no-take marine reserves used Baited Remote Underwater stereo-Video and Diver Operated stereo-Video systems to sample reef fish and habitat inside MPAs and at comparable fished sites. It is the first study using these survey methods in the southwestern Atlantic, and demonstrates how a network of no-take reserves can provide benchmarks for biodiversity conservation and fisheries management.

Article: López, J. Jiménez & Mulero-Pázmány, M. Drones for Conservation in Protected Areas: Present and Future. Drones 3, 10 (2019).

Finding: This study reviews the current use of drones in five aspects of protected area management – wildlife monitoring and management; ecosystem monitoring; law enforcement; ecotourism; and environmental management and disaster response. The authors conclude that although drones hold value for management, there remain various shortcomings that undermine the fuller integration of drones in protected areas.

Article: Asaad, I., Lundquist, C. J., Erdmann, M. V. & Costello, M. J. An interactive atlas for marine biodiversity conservation in the Coral Triangle. Earth System Science Data 11, 163 - 174 (2019).

Finding: A new online atlas of the Coral Triangle region of the Indo-Pacific biogeographic realm compiles information on biodiversity features, areas of importance for conservation, and recommended priorities for MPA network expansion. The atlas comprises the most comprehensive biodiversity datasets that have been assembled for the region.

Article: Fox, A. D. et al. An Efficient Multi-Objective Optimization Method for Use in the Design of Marine Protected Area Networks. Frontiers in Marine Science 6, (2019).

Finding: This study describes in detail an efficient search method designed to identify optimal configurations of MPA networks in cases where two or more conflicting objectives must be considered.

Article: Stratoudakis, Y. et al. Environmental representativity in marine protected area networks over large and partly unexplored seascapes. Global Ecology and Conservation, Volume 17, January 2019, e00545.

Finding: This study proposes a framework for converting Portugal’s existing ad hoc system of MPAs (which covers 4% of the nation’s EEZ) into a robust and representative network of sites that meets a politically expressed target of 14% coverage by 2020. The framework offers particular support to the prioritization of new habitats to protect.

For a free, weekly list of the latest publications on ocean planning and management, including MPAs, subscribe to the OpenChannels Literature Update here.

In addition, OCTO – the organization that produces MPA News and OpenChannels – also runs MarXiv, the free research archive for marine conservation science and marine climate science. Each week the MarXiv team produces brief summaries of selected papers for an audience of managers and policymakers. Share your research in MarXiv now and we may summarize your paper, too.

Chile announces southernmost MPA in the Americas

On 22 January, Chile announced the designation of what is now the southernmost protected area in the Americas: the 144,390-km2 Diego Ramírez-Drake Passage Marine Park. The new MPA provides habitat for endangered species such as the gray-headed albatross, the black-browed albatross, the southern rockhopper penguin, and the macaroni penguin. It is a unique place on the planet: the Diego Ramírez Islands and Drake Passage mark the southern limit of sub-Antarctic ecosystems in the hemisphere, and the transition between Antarctic and sub-Antarctic biodiversity. A press release from the Pew Charitable Trusts is here, and media coverage is here.

Also in January, Chile announced designation of the Kawésqar National Reserve, which covers 25,900 km2 of water around 3104 islands in Chile’s Magallanes region. It is home to humpback whales, endemic Chilean dolphins, and two endangered species – sei whales and southern river otters. A Pew press release is here.

Fishers threaten enforcement vessel inside MPA

In the Vaquita Refuge in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico, gillnetting is banned in a bid to protect the world’s 30 or so remaining vaquita, the smallest cetacean on Earth. But the black market for totoaba – an endangered fish whose swim bladder fetches big money on the international market (US $10,000 or more per bladder) – leads local poachers to disobey the gillnet ban. As a result, the gillnets pose the biggest threat to the remaining existence of vaquita, snagging and drowning a few individuals a year.

In January this situation came to a head when an enforcement vessel in the refuge was surrounded by 35 fishing skiffs operated by individuals who threatened the enforcement crew with Molotov cocktails and other means. The enforcement vessel was owned and operated by Sea Shepherd, an NGO that is approved by the Mexican government to patrol the Vaquita Refuge with Mexican Navy personnel onboard. The poachers dispersed as a Navy helicopter arrived overhead. Video footage of the incident is here. Media coverage is here. In late February, Sea Shepherd announced it was adding a second enforcement vessel to the refuge.

Nominations sought for 2019 Global Ocean Refuge awards

The Global Ocean Refuge System – an initiative to incentivize designation of strongly protected MPAs across 30% of the world ocean – is seeking nominations of MPAs to receive Global Ocean Refuge status in 2019. To learn more about the program or to nominate a site, click here. The nomination period is open through 31 March 2019.

Last year (2018) the system inscribed seven Global Ocean Refuges. These MPAs joined the three sites that were inscribed in the program’s first year (2017). The Global Ocean Refuge System is an initiative of the Marine Conservation Institute.

MPAs as a tool to support maternal health

A new World Health Organisation publication on innovations in human maternal health features a brief case study on an MPA in the Philippines. An analysis of maternal diets in the nation’s Aurora Province revealed protein intake averaged only 18% of recommendations. In response, a pilot intertidal MPA was planned in partnership with women from the local fishing organization, and focused on creating sustainable protein reserves to meet maternal needs, among other goals. Women were recruited for the MPA’s monitoring and surveillance. The case is on page 13 of the report Multisectoral Collaborations for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health.

New book on applying the ecosystem approach to ocean management

A new textbook – available for free – analyzes lessons learned and challenges associated with applying the ecosystem approach to different marine policy fields, including marine spatial planning, fisheries management, and biodiversity protection. It includes a chapter specifically on EU Natura 2000 sites. The 466-page book The Ecosystem Approach in Ocean Planning and Governance: Perspectives from Europe and Beyond is available here.

MPA-related readings from around the web

The overlooked casualty in the South China Sea dispute (ASEAN Today) – The South China Sea is a geopolitical flashpoint, but an international peace park in the region could provide a way to reduce tensions.

Indonesia mulls Komodo dragon park closure and Bali tax to fight overtourism (The Telegraph) – Indonesian officials plan to close Komodo National Park for a year to allow the park’s iconic dragons to recover from contact with humans.

Going to the Galápagos Is Easier and Cheaper Than Ever. That Might Not Be a Good Thing (New York Times) – The potential for overtourism and overfishing in the Galápagos National Park and Marine Reserve is raising concerns.

Great Barrier Reef authority gives green light to dump dredging sludge (The Guardian) – The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has approved the dumping of more than 1 million tons of dredge spoil near the reef, which in turn has spurred calls for a ban on such dumping.

Citizen Science Comes of Age (Hakai Magazine) – Increasingly, scientists are relying on data gathered by volunteers to make their research happen; this article features several examples from coral reef research.

Top 5 most-viewed MPA News articles from 2018

The following were the most-viewed articles from MPA News issues released in 2018:

  1. The Big Picture: The continuing debate over the value of large vs. small MPAs, and what it means for the field (May 2018)
  2. MPAs and marine litter: Snapshots of how sites are addressing the problem worldwide (June 2018)
  3. Unique study of partially protected MPAs offers new insights on when they protect biodiversity and when they do not (September 2018)
  4. Challenges, successes, and lessons from building effective MPA manager networks: Part II - The regional networks (April 2018)
  5. IUCN moves to help countries apply marine protection: By clarifying its standards, global body hopes to inspire more ocean safeguards (July 2018)

Note: Typically the most-viewed MPA News articles in any year are from that particular year. But in 2018, the most-viewed MPA News article was actually from way back in 2001: Paper parks: Why they happen, and what can be done to change them (June 2001). Although this article has been consistently popular over the years, it experienced a big surge in views last year, surpassing even our 2018 articles.