June 2018 (19:7)

Issue PDF archive: PDF icon mpa166.pdf

Marine litter – and particularly its plastic component, commonly called ‘ocean plastic’ or ‘plastic pollution’ – is a hot topic now. Photos and television programs showing marine wildlife killed by plastic pollution have sparked public outcries. Governments are condemning ocean plastic, passing plastic bag bans and joining international coalitions to address it. Global campaigns are calling on consumers to reject single-use plastic products, like drink straws, and India has announced its plan to ban single-use plastics by 2022. A 2017 study determined that plastic pollution may now be the gateway to engaging the next generation of ocean conservationists. And the UN committed its 2018 World Environment Day to the cause of beating plastic pollution.

When MPA News last covered marine debris in 2011, the topic was much lower profile. Now seemingly everyone, including MPA managers, is paying closer attention. Case in point: a 2017 webinar on microplastics that was co-sponsored by MPA News drew over 700 registrants.

Some MPAs are heavily impacted by plastic pollution due to their location near population centers or their position on ocean currents. These even include highly isolated sites like Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument and Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve. Other MPAs have relatively little marine litter. But the presence of plastic waste has now been documented from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and even in the deepest part of the ocean – the Marianas Trench, itself an MPA.

In this issue of MPA News, we provide a few snapshots of what several MPAs are doing with regard to marine litter. (Please see our ensuing article for a primer on the topic of marine litter itself, including where it comes from and its impacts on marine ecosystems.)


A. Papahānaumokuākea: A massive, ongoing program to clean up marine debris

The 1.5-million km2 Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) surrounds the ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, in the central North Pacific Ocean. It is a remote place, mostly uninhabited by humans. Despite its remoteness, however, it is a major destination for marine litter. As we noted in our 2011 article, PMNM is located in the middle of the North Pacific subtropical gyre, a clockwise-moving series of currents that has the effect of retaining and circulating much of the debris that enters the North Pacific. The islands of PMNM act as a kind of comb, catching litter from the gyre and piling it up on the reefs and shorelines.

The agencies that manage PMNM work to monitor the debris, remove it, and dispose of the waste. Some of this work dates back to the 1990s, even predating the designation of the protected area. The most recent cleanup mission (2016) collected, among other things, 1468 beverage bottles, 4457 bottle caps, 485 toothbrushes and other personal care products, and 570 shoes and flip-flop sandals.

The 2016 PMNM cleanup mission also collected 1843 derelict fishing nets or net fragments. Discarded or abandoned fishing gear is a major source of ocean plastic. The days of fishing nets made of jute (cotton) and other biodegradable natural materials are largely gone. Nets are now primarily made of nylon and similar plastics. In the ocean, discarded nets can continue to float for months or years, effectively re-baiting themselves with newly snared creatures. These are called ‘ghostnets’. Once the ghostnets reach PMNM, they often beach on shorelines or snag on coral reefs. Since 1996, a total of 848 metric tons of derelict fishing gear and plastics have been removed from the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, using highly trained NOAA divers operating off large vessels. Nearly all of the removal is done by hand. (For more detail on what happens to the removed nets, see our 2011 article.)

The PMNM cleanup mission, which had occurred on a near-annual basis until 2016, has since been rescheduled to every two or three years, says Mark Manuel of the NOAA Marine Debris Program. “The personnel, person-hours, and overall effort depend on funding availability, human resources, and ship availability, and there are increasing constraints,” he says. A large-scale effort, as was last conducted in 2014, can spend 30 or more days at sea and make visits to multiple islands and atolls. It is a major undertaking.

For more information:

Mark Manuel, NOAA Marine Debris Program. Email: mark.manuel [at] noaa.gov

Papahānaumokuākea marine debris page: https://www.papahanaumokuakea.gov/monsternet.html


B. Pelagos: Studying the presence of microplastics and related chemicals in an MPA’s wildlife

The 90,000-km2 Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals is jointly overseen by France, Italy, and Monaco. With several metropolitan areas on its coastal boundary (Nice, Monte Carlo, Genoa, and others), the MPA is subject to pollution, including plastics. The MPA is working closely with scientist Maria Cristina Fossi of the University of Siena to understand the scale of its marine litter problem.

Much of Fossi’s work is on microplastics, a relatively new focus of marine litter science. Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than 5 millimeters long. They come from larger plastic debris that degrades into smaller pieces. They also come from things like microbeads – tiny pieces of plastic that are added to many health and beauty products, such as cleansers. These tiny particles pass through most wastewater treatment systems and can end up in the tissues of marine wildlife when ingested. Fossi is measuring the presence of microplastics and various plastic chemicals in the marine wildlife of Pelagos.

Fin whales, because they are filter feeders and very large, can be significantly exposed to microplastic ingestion: they trap thousands of liters of water with each gulp. Fossi has documented, through skin samples and biopsies of stranded whales in the Pelagos area, the presence of plasticizers (chemicals added to plastic to make it less brittle) in the whales’ blubber – an indicator of plastic ingestion. She also compared the findings to those from fin whales in the Gulf of California (in North America) and found the chemical levels in Pelagos whales were significantly higher. The elevated presence of plasticizers in Pelagos whales exposes their tissues to higher oxidative stress, says Fossi, which could lead to tissue damage and a number of diseases. She has found similarly elevated levels in basking sharks, other fish, and sea turtles in the region.

For more information:

Maria Cristina Fossi, University of Siena. Email: fossi [at] unisi.it


C. Santorini: Cleaning up ghostnets to raise the profile of a proposed MPA

On the Greek island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, a bottom-up project is underway to designate a partial no-take marine reserve. Co-spearheaded by Cousteau Divers (an NGO) and involving fishing groups and other local stakeholders, the project aims to benefit the local tourism industry and provide an area for fish stock replenishment. A proposal for the MPA was presented to Greece’s Ministry of Agricultural Development and Food in 2017 and awaits approval.

To raise awareness of the proposed MPA, as well as the global problem of ghostnets, a cleanup of the site was carried out on 8 June 2018. The cleanup was a collaboration of Atlantis Diving Centre (a local dive center, one of the initiators of the MPA together with Cousteau Divers), Ghost Fishing (an NGO), Healthy Seas (an initiative to collect ghostnets for transforming into usable yarn), and other groups. Involving eight volunteer divers, the event’s highlight was the removal of a 150m ghostnet from the underwater site. The collected netting will ultimately be recycled into fabrics for swimwear.

Healthy Seas is open to working with other MPAs to help coordinate ghostnet cleanups at their sites. “We would be happy to hear from MPAs’ managing bodies,” says Veronika Mikos of Healthy Seas. “Right now we are working in five countries – UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Greece and Italy – but we hope to expand our reach.”

For more information:

Veronika Mikos, Healthy Seas. Email: veronika.mikos [at] healthyseas.org


D. Sabah: Addressed plastic bottle problem, but other plastics now an issue

In our 2011 article on marine litter and MPAs, we reported that the government of the Malaysian state of Sabah directed its parks agency to institute a plastic bottle reduction program in its MPAs due to a glut of bottles discarded on beaches by tourists. Cleanup efforts in 2009 at one site in particular – the 30-km2 Tunku Abdul Rahman Park – removed 700 kg of trash, with much of it plastic bottles. Another 800kg was removed in 2010. While short of a ban, the program urged tourists to avoid using plastic bottles inside Sabah MPAs. We reported the program was seeing good results.

Now the same MPA is back in the news, but for another plastic reason: ghostnets. A June 2018 article in New Straits Times tells how nets lost or dumped by fishers nearby are snagging on the park’s reefs and threatening coral. The nets have measured up to 300m in length. Dive operators, who worked with park staff to implement the bottle reduction program with their clients, are now partnering again to remove nets.

In adjacent Indonesia, the local government of Bali declared a ‘trash emergency’ in 2017 when monsoon storms washed thousands of tons of plastic waste onto the island’s beaches. Most of Indonesia has minimal infrastructure for municipal waste management, so much of its garbage ends up in the ocean, and Indonesia as a whole is the second-biggest contributor to ocean plastic after China. Imams in Indonesia’s two largest Islamic organizations have been enlisted to raise awareness about plastic waste.


E. Florida Keys: Cleaning up tens of thousands of lost lobster traps after a hurricane

The spiny lobster fishery in the Florida Keys (in the southeastern US) is a sizable one. In Monroe County, which includes the islands of the Florida Keys, there were 350,000 spiny lobster traps deployed one year ago. Then Hurricane Irma came through in September 2017. After the storm, 150,000 of the traps were severely displaced – strewn throughout the 7300-km2 Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS). The traps are mostly wood and concrete, but have some plastic parts.

In response, FKNMS, with support from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, has established a project called Goal: Clean Seas Florida Keys. It launched in April 2018. The scale of the cleanup needed is beyond what the Sanctuary management could do by itself, so the project enlists the help of dive shops to find and retrieve the traps. In return, the project offers the dive operators training on how to remove the traps, and guidance on how to secure permits to do so. Because the state of Florida regulates traps as property, and because the MPA has strict regulations on removing any wildlife (the traps often have algae or other sea life growing on them by the time they’re found), permits are required. Dive shops are also able to apply for funding to support their work: the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation seeded the project with US $80,000.

The project is using flyover photos from September 2017 (taken by University of Florida researchers) to direct divers to likely areas of congregations of traps. “We’re still in the beginning phase,” says Marlies Tumolo, who coordinates the project. “We’ve trained 40 dive shop staff so far and a couple shops have started cleanups. People are excited.”

For more information:

Marlies Tumolo, Educator, Florida International University in support of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Email: marlies.tumolo [at] noaa.gov

The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific knowledge on marine litter and ocean plastics. It is based in part on a longer, more detailed article from November 2017 by MPA News’ affiliated service Marine Ecosystems and Management (MEAM).

If you are interested in this topic, please note that OCTO – the organization that produces MPA News and MEAM – also runs the global discussion list on marine litter and ocean plastics: MarineDebris.Info. It is a thriving community. In April 2018, for example, there were over 170 member posts to the list. To subscribe to the MarineDebris.Info email discussion list, click here.

How much plastic is out there?

A 2017 global analysis of all mass-produced plastics ever manufactured estimated that 8.3 billion metric tons of virgin plastics have been produced to date. This same study estimated that, as of 2015, approximately 6.3 billion metric tons of plastic waste had been generated. Of that, 9% was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was either in landfills or somewhere in the natural environment.

A landmark 2015 study by Jambeck et al. on plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean estimated that in 2010 alone, 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic waste entered the ocean worldwide.

Discarded, lost, or abandoned fishing gear is another major source of ocean plastic. Modern nets are now made mostly of nylon and similar nonbiodegradable plastics, as opposed to natural materials like cotton. So when discarded, lost, or abandoned, the gear tends to continue fishing without breaking down – continually re-baiting itself with newly caught marine life, over and over for years or decades. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative, an alliance of organizations working to understand and address the problem, estimates 640,000 metric tons of fishing gear (around 10% of global marine litter) is added to oceans annually.

Of the plastic that enters the ocean from land, where does it come from?

Most of the plastic entering the ocean is coming from places with large populations and poor waste management. Most of it is from Asian countries.

The 2015 Jambeck et al. study estimated the top 20 contributors of mismanaged plastic waste, considering populations within 50 km of the coast in 2010. Nations on the Asian continent represented 12 of the top 20 countries, with China way out ahead of the pack. The African continent was runner-up with five countries in the mix, and Turkey, Brazil, and the US also made it onto the scoreboard.

Two 2017 studies have helped refine numbers for river discharge into the ocean. One of these studies estimated that rivers contribute between 410,000 and 4 million metric tons a year to oceanic plastic debris. Of this total, 88%-95% is coming from eight rivers in Asia – the Yangtze, Yellow, Hai He, Pearl, Amur, Mekong, Indus, and Ganges – and two in Africa – the Niger and Nile. The second study used somewhat different datasets and methods and estimated that 1.27 to 2.66 million metric tons of plastic waste is entering the ocean every year from rivers, with 67% of that from the top 20 polluting rivers – 15 of which are in Asia.

Where does the plastic go once it is in the ocean?

Floating ocean plastic is mostly composed of polyethylene and polypropylene — common plastic types with a density less than that of seawater. Other plastic types, with densities greater than seawater, generally sink to the sea floor when they reach the ocean.

Most of the plastic in the ocean is not floating on the surface, according to one analysis. The majority of it is on the sea floor or distributed vertically throughout the water column.

One study found that microplastic – in the form of microfibers (of which hundreds of thousands can be produced in each laundering of a polyester fleece jacket) – is relatively abundant in deep sea sediments in the Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, and Indian Ocean. It was four times more abundant in sediments than in surface waters in these regions.

Microplastics are also in deep sea organisms. One study showed that plastic microfibers are ingested and internalized by deep sea organisms with four different feeding mechanisms – suspension feeders, deposit feeders, detritivores, and predators. Another study found that nearly half of marine invertebrates living below 2200 meters in the Rockall Trough in the North Atlantic had ingested microplastics.

At the poles: while plastic pollution is scarce or absent in a lot of Arctic waters, there is quite a bit of it in the Greenland and Barents seas, perhaps due to transfer from the North Atlantic. In the Southern Ocean, studies have found microplastics in deep sea sediments and surface waters.

And, finally, one of the most remote islands on earth, Henderson Island in the South Pacific’s Pitcairn Islands, is littered with an estimated 37.7 million pieces of plastic despite being uninhabited by humans.

What happens physically to plastic once it is in the ocean?

2017 article reviews what is known and unknown about marine weathering of plastics. Once it is in the ocean, plastic is exposed to physical stress (from turbulence, abrasion with other particles, etc.), ultraviolet radiation, changing temperatures, salt, oxidizing conditions, and colonization by microorganisms such as phytoplankton, bacteria, and fungi. Plastics break down into progressively smaller bits or “secondary microplastics”; release chemical additives with which they are manufactured; absorb and adsorb chemicals from the ambient water; get eaten and potentially passed along in the food chain; move with currents; and, eventually, sink.

These occurrences can interact in complex ways. For instance, biofouling increases the density of plastic debris and leads to its sinking. Biofouling can also increase uptake of plastic particles into the food web and slow the leaching of chemicals into seawater. Sinking lower in the water column or to the seabed can reduce exposure to ultraviolet radiation and physical stress and slow further weathering.

What impacts are plastics having on marine organisms and habitats?

We have all seen the photos of marine life tangled in plastic, or the stomachs of seabirds or other animals filled with litter. Recent years have observed an increase in the roster of animals known to be affected by entanglement with, and ingestion of, plastic. One study examined which plastic trash items had the greatest impact on seabirds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. The biggest culprits were fishing gear, balloons, plastic bags, and plastic utensils.

Chronic exposure to microplastics can change the way marine organisms eat, grow, and reproduce. (For example, eating microplastics decreases the reproductive capability of Pacific oysters.) And this may mean bigger changes to marine populations, trophic structures, and ecosystems over time.

While most of the literature focuses on the impact of plastics on organisms, plastics can also alter habitats including sandy beaches, salt marshes, mangrove forests, coral reefs, seagrass beds, and oyster reefs. A review of these impacts by habitat is here. In 2018 a study on the impact of plastic litter on coral reefs found that contact with plastic can make corals more than 20 times more susceptible to disease.

Plastic has also been enabling an extraordinary rafting event in recent years, carrying species-laden debris from the 2011 tsunami in eastern Japan across the Pacific Ocean to Hawai‘i and North America. Researchers have documented 289 Japanese coastal marine species arriving alive on eastern Pacific shores, setting new records for transoceanic survival and dispersal of coastal species by rafting.

For additional information

MarineDebris.Info: global discussion list on marine litter research, management, and prevention

Global Ghost Gear Initiative: Working to ensure safer, cleaner oceans by driving sustainable solutions to the problem of ghost fishing gear globally

UN Clean Seas Programme: Engaging governments, the private sector, and the general public in the global fight against marine plastic litter.

ALBATROSS the film: filmed on location in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument

Short video: plastics in US coastal national parks

Webinar recording: Ghost Fishing Gear: The Global Problem and the Global Solution

Webinar recording: Engaging governments, businesses, and the public in the fight against marine plastic litter: the #CleanSeas campaign

Webinar recording: The African Marine Waste Network: Inviting Participation

Webinar recording: Accelerating the solutions to ocean plastic: Trends and lessons from five years of the Marine Plastics Innovation Challenge

By Carlos A. Espinosa and Néstor J. Windevoxhel

Editor’s note: The countries of Central America possess several decades of experience with coastal and marine protected areas. MPA News invited Carlos Espinosa, founder and director of Dos Mares, to contribute insights on the past, present, and future of MPAs in Central America. Dos Mares promotes MPA sustainability in the region by disseminating marine science knowledge and conservation tools, and by fostering green business opportunities. Carlos is originally from Nicaragua, and worked for several international agencies in Central America, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and United States before founding Dos Mares. The following is the second of three articles by him; his first was in our May 2018 issue.

His co-author on this article, Néstor J. Windevoxhel, has worked for several large and multinational protected area conservation and financial programs. He is currently developing funding frameworks for national parks in Panama.

The challenges facing coastal and marine protected areas in Central America remain as serious as ever. And in some ways they are getting worse.

Some of these challenges are fairly common for MPAs worldwide: inadequate training and compensation for staff; lack of clarity in legal status and related laws; and lack of financial sustainability. (We recommend reading Challenges for the Integral Management of Central America MPAs for details on these.) The response to these challenges often varies according to the priorities of each country’s government, the state of national economies, and other factors.

There are relatively unique challenges to this region as well. In the last 15 years, many protected areas have been affected by the emergence of well-financed criminal groups that are trafficking people and drugs through the region. Protected areas can be fertile areas for these practices. Where there are limited investments made by governments, protected areas have low supervision. They are also often isolated. This makes them preferred areas for illicit activities. Obviously, the presence of such activities puts protected area staff and associated people and organizations at risk. (One example: the 2013 murder of environmentalist Jairo Mora Sandoval, who was killed by smugglers as he tried to protect leatherback turtle nests in Costa Rica.)

The criminal groups’ presence has exacerbated an array of environmental impacts – including illegal occupations of land, deforestation, poaching, and pollution. One dramatic example is in Punta de Manabique in Guatemala, a coastal protected area in which so-called ‘narco-ranchers’ have deforested the reserve to raise cattle and palm trees as additional revenue sources. See: Towards the Future that is Wanted or the Paradise that is Lost? A Vision to Share: Punta de Manabique, Guatemala.

The presence of criminal groups in a country’s protected areas can form a vicious circle. We have observed that governments may be even less inclined to increase support for protected areas if they know the areas are already occupied by crime groups.

Progress being made

There is good news, though. There were some significant strides made in the 1980s and 1990s in the protected area systems of Central America. Costa Rica, Panama, and Guatemala are examples: all three sought the expansion and improved representativeness of their protected area systems. In these countries, more recent development of mechanisms such as private sector participation, co-management with communities, conservation funds, debt swaps, and payments for ecosystem services have been examples of progress.

There are local-level examples of good governance and participation mechanisms as seen with sustainable fishery management systems in the coastal lagoons of the Moskitia region of Nicaragua and Honduras. There are also tourism caps in some areas of Costa Rica and Panama, sustainable exploitation of mollusks in Nicaraguan parks, and fishing quotas in protected areas in Belize, which have all demonstrated their feasibility and respective benefits.

Local financial mechanisms such as the Chagres and Darien Funds – established in Panama in 2017 to help fund management of two national parks, and financed through debt swaps – are off to a good start. National nature-funding mechanisms such as FIDECO in Panama or FIAES Fund in El Salvador have also shown some success in terms of the volume of financial resources applied and the number of projects implemented as a result. Payments for ecosystem services in Guatemala, both in Sierra de las Minas and Cerro San Gil, as well as regional financial mechanisms such as the Mesoamerican Reef Fund (MAR Fund) – shared by Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras – and the wide application of varied forms of public participation in management have shown significant successes.

However, these recent financing mechanisms and opportunities are not sufficient by themselves to support the management of protected areas. And despite these positive examples, we have observed government budgets for protected areas in the region stop growing or even decline in recent years. Although the protected areas of Central America represent national and local goods and services – for the provision of water, fishing, tourism, and many other key services such as the operation of the Panama Canal – the investment required for effective management continues to be insufficient. We must do better.

Next article in this series: Lessons learned from Central American MPAs

For more information:

Carlos Espinosa, Dos Mares. Email: cespinosa [at] dosmares.org

Néstor J. Windevoxhel, Asesores Ambientales de Centroamérica S.A. (AACASA). Email: nwindevoxhel [at] gmail.com

In last month’s MPA News, we examined the ongoing debate over the value of large vs. small MPAs: whether MPA designations should focus on large offshore sites or smaller inshore ones. This debate has been going on for many years, and we’ve reported on aspects of it several times. 

In the introduction to the article, I inserted the statement that “if the world is to reach Aichi Target 11 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (that 10% of marine areas are effectively conserved by 2020) […] then large MPAs are a necessity.”

That statement was criticized by some readers who felt that MPA News was taking a political stand in favor of large MPAs, and against small ones. I recognize now that I should have done a better job of explaining why I said what I did. In fact the statement had nothing to do with politics and everything to do with math.

As long-time readers of MPA News may recall, we published an article in 2012 that examined how the MPA field could reach the 10% target by 2020. We broke it down mathematically. Ten percent of the ocean equals roughly 36 million km2. The median size of MPAs worldwide is somewhere around 3 km2 these days. (This means half of MPAs are larger than that, half smaller.) If you do the math, we would need 12 million median-sized MPAs to reach the 10% target. For comparison: there are just 15,000 MPAs today. (Indeed, even if the median size of MPAs were a hundred times greater – 300 km2 – we would still need 120,000 of them.)

The 20 largest MPAs in the world make up 70% of global MPA coverage. If none of these large MPAs existed, the global MPA coverage would currently be around 2%. And if no more large MPAs were designated, the field would never get to 10%.

That is why I phrased that sentence as I did. I was saying if we want to meet the numerical target of Aichi Target 11, then we obviously must have at least a few very large MPAs. I was not saying large MPAs are good or bad, or numerical targets are good or bad. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, as we’ve covered in MPA News many times. (Small MPAs have their strengths and weaknesses, too.)

If any readers find fault with the math I’ve presented above or my reasoning, I invite you to please write in. I am open to being shown to be wrong. My goal is only to serve the field by raising important issues for consideration.

One last note: The discussion in last month’s article was among the most thoughtful and nuanced I have seen on the topic of large vs. small MPAs, and on numerical targets for MPA coverage. If you have not read it yet, I hope you have time to do so. Thanks.

John Davis, mpanews [at] openchannels.org
Editor, MPA News

Editor’s note: This new recurring column, MPA Training in a Nutshell, distills advice from what is likely the largest and longest-running MPA management capacity training program in the world – the International MPA Capacity Building Team (IMPACT). Run by the US National MPA Center (within NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries), the program has trained thousands of MPA managers in more than 40 countries. MPA News profiled IMPACT in our July 2015 issue.

Anne Nelson co-leads IMPACT. In these columns, Anne will share quick and useful tips – best practices gathered by IMPACT from MPA managers worldwide.

By Anne Nelson

The effective management of MPA networks requires an array of elements. These include having adequate technical capacity of site managers, good science, committed leadership at multiple levels (sites, agencies, and policy makers), shared goals among MPAs, and monitoring of the network’s ecological effectiveness.

Importantly, it also requires good connectivity among site managers – in other words, a social network.

Whether created at the regional, national, or local level, a strong social network helps managers to share technical resources and lessons learned, and collaborate on decision-making. It empowers them to keep each other motivated and inspired, and feel part of a community. And ultimately it sustains and strengthens the conservation and governance of the component sites.

As such, creating effective MPA social networks is a key part of building management capacity for networks. If you are including a capacity-building program as part of your MPA management planning, or simply looking to strengthen the existing social network among a group of managers, here are some quick tips:

  • Build in time and ways to establish trust among managers, and to create a collaborative and supportive environment among them. Building trust can be a time-intensive process, and I will explore some helpful shortcuts in a future column.
  • Encourage collaborative partnerships among sites through joint efforts on needs assessment, program planning, objective setting, and long-term implementation.
  • Plan for an annual (or more frequent!) gathering to share accomplishments, and make plans together to continue strengthening the social network.
  • Create other long-term opportunities for MPA managers to gather face-to-face, including through site visits and ongoing professional development opportunities.

For more information:

Anne Nelson, on contract to the National MPA Center. Email: anne.nelson [at] noaa.gov. Web: https://marineprotectedareas.noaa.gov/nationalsystem/international/

Lauren Wenzel, Director, National MPA Center. Email: lauren.wenzel [at] noaa.gov

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

Article: Suchley, A. & Alvarez-Filip, L. “Local human activities limit marine protection efficacy on Caribbean coral reefs.” Conservation Letters e12571 (2018)

Finding: This study of seven coral reef MPAs and nearby unprotected areas in the Mexican Caribbean – a region with burgeoning coastal development in recent decades – found that coral cover was positively related to protected status, but was significantly lower at sites near elevated local human activity. The authors call on policy makers to acknowledge the impact of uncontrolled coastal development on corals and to apply stronger regulations.


Preprint: Magris, R. A. & Pressey, R. L. “Marine protected areas: Just for show?” Science 360, 723.2 - 724 (2018)

Finding: The authors question the wisdom of designating large, open-ocean MPAs as an effective conservation strategy. They make the case that the recent planning of two such MPAs in Brazil adhered poorly to best practices in conservation planning.  


Article: Sala, E. et al. “Assessing real progress towards effective ocean protection.” Marine Policy 91, 11 - 13 (2018).

Finding: The authors state that only 3.6% of the ocean is in MPAs that have been implemented with active management – as opposed to simply being announced or designated. And only 2% is implemented in MPAs that are fully protected (no-take) or strongly protected (recreational or artisanal fishing allowed). They argue that current protection is often overestimated because it includes areas that are not yet actually protected, and that areas that allow significant extractive activities such as fishing should not count as protected.


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 repository for marine conservation science and marine climate change science. Each week the MarXiv team produces brief, one-page summaries of selected papers in its repository for an audience of managers and policymakers. Share your research in MarXiv now and we may summarize your paper, too!

Volcano fills in MPA with lava

A small, inshore, no-take MPA in the US state of Hawai‘i has been covered up by lava from ongoing volcanic eruptions on the archipelago’s Big Island. The 0.2-km2 Wai'opae Tidepools Marine Life Conservation District was designated in 2003, and was popular with snorkelers and swimmers. Now it is covered by lava rock. Hundreds of nearby homes were also destroyed by the lava flow.

For before/after satellite photos of the MPA, click MPAtlas’s coverage here. For helicopter footage of the lava flow meeting the sea, click here.


Malta expands MPA coverage

The percentage of Malta’s waters in MPAs is rising to 35% following designation of eight more MPAs by the Maltese government, according to press reports. The new sites increase the island nation’s MPA coverage from 3487 km2 to 4138 km2. The new MPAs feature coral reefs, caves, and other important seabed habitats.


UK opens consultation on another tranche of Marine Conservation Zones to come

The UK government has launched a public consultation on creating 41 new Marine Conservation Zones across the nation’s waters. The consultation is lasting six weeks until 20 July. If approved, the new sites will be designated within 12 months after that.

Fifty Marine Conservation Zones have already been designated around England as part of the UK’s Blue Belt programme, including a first tranche of 27 zones designated in 2013, and a second tranche of 23 sites in 2016. The 41 sites under consultation, as well as additional protections for 12 existing sites, are considered the third and final tranche. To participate in the consultation, click here.


Article on Chile’s ongoing battle involving penguins and an iron mine development

For those of you who attended the Fourth International Marine Protected Areas Congress in La Serena, Chile, last September – and particularly if you went on the field trip to Humboldt National Penguin Reserve ahead of the conference – here is an update on the political battle over whether to develop a giant new iron mine and new port near the protected area. At IMPAC4, we learned that the Chilean president at the time, Michelle Bachelet, had just rejected the mine development. But that rejection was overturned by a court earlier this year and the new national government appears more open to the concept.


New Zealand court blocks 1000-home development from being built next to MPA

Citing the potential impact on waterfowl and the greater marine environment, a court in New Zealand has blocked approval of a high-density, 1000-home development that would have been built next to an existing MPA, the Long Bay-Okura Estuary Marine Reserve. The ruling was by the nation’s Environment Court, which adjudicates on potential effects of planning applications under New Zealand’s Resource Management Act. Analyses of the ruling, as well as comments on continuing challenges facing the MPA (i.e., sedimentation from other coastal developments), are available here, here, and here.


Study: Great Barrier Reef has had five major reef-death events in past 30,000 years

A recent study by a large international team of researchers takes a long-term view of the health of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), using geological records to see how the reef has responded to environmental changes over the past 30 thousand years. Their findings:

  • Reefs migrated seaward in times of lower sea level
  • Reefs migrated landward as the shelf flooded and ocean temperatures increased
  • Growth was interrupted by five reef-death events, caused by reef exposure above water or by sea-level rise outpacing reef growth

The authors conclude, “As an ecosystem, the GBR has been more resilient to past sea-level and temperature fluctuations than previously thought.” Granted, the resilience and re-establishment can take hundreds or thousands of years to occur. The paper “Response of the Great Barrier Reef to sea-level and environmental changes over the past 30,000 years” is available here. A news article on it in Science magazine is here.

Returning to the present, the latest annual report from the reef monitoring program for the GBR notes that coral cover has continued to decline due to the cumulative impacts of multiple, severe disturbances over the past four years. These disturbances include coral bleaching, cyclones, and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. The monitoring program has been going for 20 years.


Marseille to host World Conservation Congress in 2020

IUCN has announced that Marseille, France, will host the next World Conservation Congress. It will occur 11-19 June 2020. The last IUCN World Conservation Congress was held in Honolulu, Hawai‘i, US, in 2016 and was attended by 10,000 participants. At the 2016 Congress, IUCN members voted in favor of a resolution calling on governments to protect 30% of their waters in MPAs by 2030.


Winners announced for Chagos stamp competition

The British Indian Ocean Territory Administration, which oversees the Chagos archipelago, has announced the winners of its contest for kids to design an official postage stamp for the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). The design theme was “Why are coral reefs and oceans important?” Four winners were chosen. The 640,000-km2 Chagos MPA, in which commercial fishing is off-limits, is inside BIOT waters.


From the MPA News vault

Features and news items from yesteryear

Five years ago: May-June 2013

  • South Africa Designates 180,000-km2 MPA; Will Be Enforced Jointly with Commercial Fishing Industry
  • LMMA Lessons: Where, and how big, should a no-take area be?

Ten years ago: June 2008

  • De Facto MPAs: How They Can Assist Conservation and Resource Management
  • MPA Tip: How to Approach Donors to Establish an Endowment

Fifteen years ago: June 2003

  • "Naturalness" and MPAs: Scientists Discuss Protection for Last Undisturbed Ocean Sites
  • MPA Perspective: The Art of Communicating MPA Science

For these and all other issues of MPA News, go to https://mpanews.openchannels.org/mpanews/archives