May 2017 (18:8)

Issue PDF archive: PDF icon mpa158.pdf

Ten years ago, MPA News asked practitioners a question: In this era of changing climate, what can you do to ensure your sites remain relevant over time? We decided it was time to revisit that question.

MPAs are generally designed to protect the habitats and biodiversity of today. Where there is a coral reef, for example, or where there is a particular species of interest, we design an MPA around it. But as the ocean warms, and as those habitats and species shift and are otherwise impacted, these changes will have significant effects on MPAs.

It stands to reason that most practitioners would like their sites to remain relevant 50 or 100 years from now. How can they best do that?

It is a challenging question. As our understanding improves of the multiple impacts of climate change — including ocean warming, sea level rise, coral bleaching, acidification, pole-ward shifts of habitats and species, the possibility of species extinctions — the question grows ever more important.

This month we revisited the same question with a new set of practitioners. Their responses are below.

You cannot hold back the tide

By Wendy Foden, Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission's Climate Change Specialist Group. Email: fodenw [at]  (Wendy is co-editor of IUCN SSC Guidelines for Assessing Species’ Vulnerability to Climate Change.)

You cannot hold back the tide. We are now locked into climate-related changes that will continue to run their course over the coming decades, so managing our systems to try to keep them the same will fail. We need to embrace the changes and take best advantage of the opportunities they bring.

An important early step is for managers to assess how, how much, and in what time frames their MPAs are changing. This helps to work out the key climate change vulnerabilities, including to biodiversity, infrastructure, and associated human communities.

With these realities in mind, managers and planners should re-evaluate MPA goals and adjust them such that they are aiming for managing the best possible outcomes under change.

“Climate smart” conservation strategies help to meet these, and involve reducing exposure to the change, reducing sensitivity, and increasing adaptive capacity. Biodiversity, infrastructure, and associated human communities should each be considered. Vulnerability assessments provide essential guidance on how this can be done, and great new adaptation resources are now emerging.* Each MPA’s requirements will be unique; there can be few times in marine conservation history where MPA managers and planners faced such a challenge to be creative and innovative!

An important consideration is integrated management of land surface and coastal marine areas. Climate change impacts inland (e.g., changing river flow or pollution) may be a key source of MPA vulnerability, and rising sea levels can make a huge difference to a protected area by changing the coastal configuration and estuaries.

Other important conservation aspects include ensuring connectivity along gradients (e.g., temperature, salinity) to facilitate natural adaptation via range shifts. For priority species and sites, intensive management strategies and ex situ conservation may be appropriate.

Climate change conservation is a new field so some of the actions we try are bound to be ineffective or even maladaptive – it’s to be expected. This highlights how important it is to monitor the effectiveness of our actions and to share the outcomes within our local and global communities. That way we can learn, as quickly as possible, how best to tackle this big new challenge.

* For example: and

The Arctic is undergoing a phase change, and MPAs need to account for it

By Martin Sommerkorn, Head of Conservation, WWF Arctic Programme, Norway. Email: msommerkorn [at]

The pace and scale of climate change in the Arctic is unique because the Arctic is warming at approximately twice the global average. The region is undergoing a phase change from a marine ecosystem dominated by ice, to one characterized by open water for a substantial part of the year.

MPAs in the Arctic need to account for this change in two important respects. The first is to use models that project the location of resilient ice habitat, and focus on conserving as much of that habitat as possible — especially areas of that habitat that are proven productivity hotspots, like the sea ice marginal zone. The second approach is to prioritize protection of resilient features in the marine Arctic that are drivers of productivity, diversity, and biological interactions, such as seamounts and river deltas. While these may not preserve the current suite of biodiversity, it is likely that they will remain drivers of biodiversity. This means that even if current species are largely supplanted by more southerly species, the ecosystem benefits of these features will likely persist far into the future.

Lastly, Arctic nations must combine their efforts at MPA planning to create a coherent representative network that allows for connectivity. That connectivity can encompass migratory routes, allow for intra-species biodiversity, and facilitate range shifts — or, in other words, support adaptation to change at the biome scale.

Adopt proactive approaches when prioritizing areas for conservation

By Rafael Magris, Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation - ICMBio / Brazilian Ministry of Environment. Email: rafael.magris [at] (Rafael was lead author of a 2014 study in the journal Biological Conservation, “Integrating connectivity and climate change into marine conservation planning”. For a free copy of that study or other studies he mentions in his response here, please email him.)

Given the potential of climate change to cause alteration of habitats and species distribution, this threat has become a major concern of practitioners when planning MPAs.

One way of tackling this issue is to adopt proactive approaches when prioritizing areas for conservation. This can be done, for example, by locating and protecting climate change refugia that are identified based not only on the historic environment but also on future ocean conditions. By taking a much broader temporal perspective when planning MPA placement, practitioners can predict shifts in disturbances over time and address future states of the environment with temporally static MPA boundaries (see this 2015 paper for a detailed example). 

Another way of addressing the effects of climate change is to design networks of MPAs, i.e., an array of individual MPAs that are ecologically connected. Although connectivity is a global priority for conservation, many planners have neglected this aspect when establishing new MPAs. Optimizing the formation of MPA networks could either allow the movement of organisms between newly unsuitable habitats and suitable ones in a changing environment, or help accelerate recovery from healthy to damaged areas in the aftermath of disturbances. A recent study demonstrates an MPA design approach that optimizes several connectivity benefits, including the relevant ones in times of climate change.

Although addressing uncontrollable threats that operate at large scales through local management remains elusive, there is a wide range of approaches that would potentially make conservation actions effective now and in the future.

Establishing an MPA as a sentinel site for ocean acidification

By Jenny Waddell, Research Coordinator, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, US. Email: jenny.waddell [at]

Managers today need to think carefully about projected changes to MPA resources in order to establish ecological baselines and initiate studies that are able to detect change over time. At the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, we commissioned a report (Miller et al. 2013) that describes potential future scenarios, specifically at OCNMS. Based on anticipated climate variability, we can prepare to manage for change and uncertainty. That will include adaptive management — allowing us to reconsider sanctuary goals and strategies as new information becomes available or as climate perturbations unfold. 

Given that ocean acidification (OA) on the Olympic Coast is projected to increase 2.5 times faster than the global average, we are also working with multiple partners to establish OCNMS as a sentinel site for ocean acidification. The OA sentinel site will enhance resource management efforts through a collaborative approach that integrates science and monitoring with other critical elements of sentinel sites, including education, outreach and awareness, robust partnerships, defined management applications, and collaborative governance. In this way, OA provides a lens and a framework for our understanding of how resources are changing on the Olympic Coast. 

Finally, we feel it is critical to nurture community champions and equip them with knowledge and information to broaden public support and characterize the role of MPAs. Enlisting non-scientists to convey important messages about resources that people care about — and about the threats they face — should help us address science barriers and other obstacles to public understanding and engagement. [Editor’s note: For an example of how OCNMS partners with the indigenous Quinault Indian Nation on community-based harvesting of razor clams — a species that is particularly susceptible to ocean acidification — see this video.]

MPAs can ensure that a well-functioning ecosystem is maintained

By John Baxter, Principal Adviser – Marine, Scottish Natural Heritage, Scotland. Email: john.baxter [at] (John co-edited the landmark 2016 report from IUCN, Explaining Ocean Warming: Causes, scale, effects and consequences.)

In the short to medium term, it is inevitable that climate change will continue to have increasingly significant impacts on the marine environment. MPAs have an important role to play in helping to alleviate these impacts over and above simply reducing non-climate stressors.

A well-designed network of MPAs can be a mechanism for many species to have a secure route for retreat in the face of a warming sea by providing “safe” refuges to move to. MPAs can also act as sentinel sites where other pressures are managed, to help identify the first signs of climate change impact, thus enabling an early response to be put in place where this is possible. 

It is also important to recognize that change is inevitable and it should be assessed appropriately. The loss of one species that is replaced by another should not necessarily be seen as a bad thing if the new species performs the same ecological function. MPAs have the capacity to ensure that a well-functioning ecosystem is maintained that will continue to deliver essential ecosystem services necessary for life.

Box: Responses from 10 years ago

When MPA News asked practitioners the same question 10 years ago (“Amid a changing climate and ocean, what can MPA managers do?”), we received a broad array of responses: on managing for ecological and social resilience, on operating MPAs as showcases for sustainable living, on dynamic reserves, and more. To see all the responses, go to the December 2006 issue of MPA News.

Box: Could engineering-based solutions save the Great Barrier Reef from warming?

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is currently experiencing a mass coral bleaching event for the second year in a row. This is the first time the site has not had years between mass bleaching events to recover, and it has added to concerns about the health of the ecosystem going forward.

Those concerns have led to suggestions of at least two engineering-based strategies to protect the Great Barrier Reef from future ocean warming. The effectiveness of the suggested solutions remains unclear, and neither has been adopted by Australian officials. MPA News mentions them here to illustrate that engineering-based solutions to climate change are starting to emerge in the MPA field:

  • Cloud brightening — This would involve spraying tiny salt particles, generated from seawater, toward coastal clouds. The effect would be to induce additional droplet formation, expanding the total surface area of the clouds and reflecting solar energy back toward space. The technology remains in its infancy although several research groups — including at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science and the University of Sydney School of Geosciences — are working on it.
  • Pumping cold water onto the reef — This idea would involve pumping cooler water from a depth of 40 meters to the surface, using the deeper waters to counteract ocean warming on selected reefs of the MPA. It has been proposed as a highly localized solution to bleaching by some tourism industry stakeholders and the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre. Scientists and other experts are skeptical of how useful it will be for the MPA as a whole, which covers hundreds of thousands of square kilometers.

In late April, US President Donald Trump issued two executive orders that carry potentially significant implications for several of the country’s MPAs, including its largest ones. Both orders could lead to weakened protection for sites.

A review of Marine National Monuments

One order, signed on 26 April, opens a formal review of sites designated since 1996 under the US Antiquities Act. That Act empowers US presidents to designate protected areas — terrestrial or marine — without having to secure congressional approval. The past three presidents (Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) each exercised that power to designate multiple national monuments, as sites designated under the law are termed. Those sites include five of the country’s largest MPAs:

  • Marianas Trench Marine National Monument (250,000 km2);
  • Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument (12,720 km2);
  • Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (490,000 km2);
  • Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (1.5 million km2); and
  • Rose Atoll Marine National Monument (34,000 km2).

Based on the executive order, all five of those marine national monuments, as well as 22 terrestrial monuments also designated under the Antiquities Act, are now undergoing a 60-day public comment period that started 12 May. The Trump Administration is describing the comment period as the first chance for stakeholders to have a voice in governance of the national monuments. To provide your comments, follow the directions here.

Following the public comment period, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior will deliver recommendations to President Trump on what changes if any should be made to each site. For the marine sites, recommended changes could presumably include alteration of fishing restrictions, reduction of site area, or even a full overturn of designations.

The power of presidents to alter the regulations or size of monuments has been applied in the past and is legally established. However, as MPA News reported last November, whether presidents have the power to wholly overturn monuments designated by their predecessors remains an open legal question. It has never been tried, and the Antiquities Act neither allows nor disallows such overturning. Any attempt by Trump to do so would almost surely be challenged by environmental groups in court.

In a statement on 26 April, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said there are no predetermined outcomes on any of the monuments. Opponents of the marine sites have been mobilizing in recent months to remove the fishing restrictions. Proponents of the monuments have mobilized as well, including through letters — to Congress and to President Trump, respectively — expressing support for existing protections.

A review of National Marine Sanctuaries designated or expanded in past decade

The second executive order, signed on 28 April, aims to open US waters to increased offshore energy development, particularly oil and gas. It calls on the Secretary of the Interior to revise the schedule of proposed oil and gas lease sales and streamline permitting for seismic exploration.

In support of such energy development, the order halts any designation or expansion of National Marine Sanctuaries until such actions include a “timely, full accounting … of any energy or mineral resource potential” for the sites. Such a halt could conceivably delay planned designations and expansions. 

The order also calls for a review of National Marine Sanctuaries (designated under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act) and Marine National Monuments that have been designated or expanded in the past 10 years. (As this issue of MPA News went to press on 16 May, NOAA was still analyzing which sanctuaries would be included in such a review.) The 180-day review will analyze the sites’ impacts on government budgets and on energy development. Conceivably the review could result in recommended changes to site regulations or site boundaries.

In the executive order, President Trump also attempted to revoke the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area designated by former President Obama in December 2016. The 291,000-km2 area in the Northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait region in Alaska was placed off-limits to petroleum drilling by Obama under powers afforded under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. That Act does not explicitly allow or disallow presidents to overturn their predecessors’ actions, so the legality of Trump’s repeal of the moratorium is unclear at this time. It is likely to be contested in court.

By Jon Day

Editor’s note: Jon Day was lead author for Guidelines for applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas (IUCN 2012). From 1998 to 2014 Jon served as one of the directors at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (responsible for conservation, heritage and Indigenous partnerships). He is now at James Cook University.

Broad pronouncements are sometimes made (wrongly) that “fishing is not allowed in an MPA.”  The reality is, as shown in the figure below, there are various types of MPAs and some do allow fishing.

This figure was developed after a recent fisheries workshop where some attendees were confused as to what the various IUCN categories for protected areas (PAs) actually meant and where fishing might occur. The figure attempts to show the relationship among IUCN’s PA categories, how those categories (particularly Categories Ia to IV) have been interpreted when applied to MPAs, and in which ones fishing is (generally) allowed. 

The figure is not meant to replace more formal and detailed guidance (e.g., Dudley 2008; Day et al. 2012). But hopefully it does provide a quick guide to what the IUCN categories generally mean for MPAs and fishing. (Note: there are some exceptions, so please refer to the detailed guidance if you are unsure).

Some recent papers have discussed the conservation benefits that MPAs may, or may not, provide for various marine species (e.g., Doherty et al. 2017; White et al. 2017) without defining the type of MPA. Highly mobile marine species may well traverse all the marine categories shown, so the creation of one type of MPA alone is unlikely to be sufficient for the conservation of such species, particularly considering the different life stages of such mobile species.

Regarding MPAs, it is also important to remember:

  • For an area to be considered by IUCN to be an MPA, conservation must be the primary overarching purpose of the area. Consequently areas set aside primarily for fisheries management or for tourism may not meet the IUCN requirements for an MPA. The Ross Sea in Antarctica, recently announced by CCAMLR as the world’s largest MPA, has been shown by Nicoll and Day (2017) to not meet the IUCN requirements of an MPA.
  • The types of MPAs in the table where fishing is shown as ‘Not allowed’ comprise less than 10% of the global MPA area, so the majority of the area covered by the world’s MPAs does allow some fishing to occur.
  • There may well be other effective area-based conservation measures besides MPAs. These have a different origin to MPAs but may achieve the same outcome as sites where conservation is the primary purpose.
  • The IUCN categories were not designed solely for MPAs but rather for all PAs (terrestrial and marine). As such they are intended to be applied globally across all PAs, not just MPAs.

For more information:

Jon Day, ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Australia. Email: [at]

These recent articles on MPA-related science and policy are all open access.

Article:An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservation”, Marine Policy 81, 411-418 (2017)

Finding: Poor governance and social issues can jeopardize the legitimacy and long-term effectiveness of marine conservation practices, including MPAs. This paper reviews key principles and identifies next steps in developing fair social standards and a related code of conduct for marine conservation.

Article: Integrating conservation and economic objectives in MPA network planning: A case study from New Zealand”, Biological Conservation 210, 136 - 144 (2017)

Finding: New Zealand's existing MPAs provide, on average, 70% less representation of biodiversity features than would be achieved by an MPA network of equivalent area if the latter were designed from the outset using the conservation-planning software Zonation.

Article:How to Achieve Conservation Outcomes at Scale: An Evaluation of Scaling Principles“, Frontiers in Marine Science 3 (2017)

Finding: This study identifies 23 factors that are significantly associated with successful scaling for marine conservation projects. Among the study’s conclusions: for scaling to be successful it must be considered at all stages of a project, and attention must also be paid to methods, marketing, dissemination, and long-term monitoring.

Article:Automated detection and enumeration of marine wildlife using unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and thermal imagery”, Scientific Reports 7, 45127 (2017)

Finding: Counts of grey seal colonies in Canada using completely automated techniques (unmanned aircraft systems, thermal imagery, and computer vision) resulted in counts that were within 95-98% of human estimates. The study illustrates how such methods can be combined to efficiently collect population data critical to wildlife management.

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

Nominees requested for Kenton Miller Award, recognizing innovation in MPA practice

The IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) is requesting nominations for this year's Kenton Miller Award, which recognizes individuals who have demonstrated innovative approaches for effective protected areas. For this year's award, WCPA is limiting nominees to those working in the MPA field specifically. It is the first time WCPA has focused the award on marine innovation. 

The winner will receive US$5000 and will be announced at IMPAC4 this September in Chile. The deadline for nominations is 26 May. Instructions and details are available here.

Normally the Kenton Miller Award solicits nominees from both terrestrial and marine protected areas. But it has gone to an MPA practitioner only once: in 2007 Heliodoro Sanchez of Mexico won it for his work on mangrove protected areas.

Second edition of Blue Solutions Caribbean report offers 50 case studies

The new second edition of the Blue Solutions from Latin America and the Wider Caribbean report provides an updated collection of successful case studies from that region, including several that involve MPAs. The 63-page report contains 50 brief case studies and is available for free here. The Blue Solutions initiative supports the exchange of successful approaches to marine and coastal conservation and development — sharing what worked where and why.

New report on how aquaculture and MPAs can be compatible

A new report from IUCN outlines opportunities for aquaculture to be integrated in MPAs in a sustainable way. It describes various types of aquaculture and their compatibility with different categories of MPA. It also offers several case studies. “There is no simple answer to the issue of how to deliver enhanced synergies between MPAs and aquaculture,” states the report. “It is not a case of banning aquaculture in multiple-use MPAs (except badly practiced aquaculture). But which projects do go forward should be compatible with environmental conditions and local settings.” The 16-page publication Aquaculture and Marine Protected Areas: Potential Opportunities and Synergies is available for free here.

Study finds the closer to an MPA a child lives, the more likely the child is to be healthy

It is not often that marine protected areas appear in a medical journal. But the April 2017 issue of The Lancet features a study that finds that effectively managed MPAs could help improve the health of marginalized coastal peoples worldwide, particularly children.

The study examined 47,000 children living less than 25 km from a marine coast in 25 developing countries. While controlling for an array of socioeconomic variables, the study found that the further from an MPA a child lived, the greater the likelihood that the child would be severely stunted (i.e., have inadequate height for age). The authors say further research is needed to uncover why MPA proximity would have this effect on child health. A summary of the article “Effect of coastal marine protection on childhood health: an exploratory study” is available here.

From the MPA News vault

Features and news items from yesteryear

Five years ago: May-June 2012

  • Paying for MPAs: Examples of Large-Scale Fundraising for Planning and Management
  • Marine Protected Areas in Fisheries Management: A West African Perspective

Ten years ago: May 2007

  • Do We Really Need 50 Ways to Say "Marine Protected Area"?: Views on MPA Terminology, and Efforts to Categorize MPAs
  • Agreement Places Strict Limits on Bottom Trawling in South Pacific

Fifteen years ago: May 2002

  • Recruiting Research That Is Useful to Your MPA: Advice from Experts
  • What Scientists Want in an MPA Study Site: Interview with Callum Roberts

For these and all other issues of MPA News, go to

Upcoming webinars

Using US Whistleblower Laws to Fight Illegal Fishing and Marine Pollution and Fund MPAs
Tuesday, 6 June 2017 at 1pm US EDT / 10am US PDT / 5pm UTC

A Coastal Conservation Leadership Program in Washington State
Thursday, 8 June 2017 at 1pm US EDT / 10am US PDT / 5pm UTC

Green Fins: A Tool for Reducing the Direct Impacts of Diving and Tourism Industries
Thursday, 13 July 2017 at 1pm US EDT / 10am US PDT / 5pm UTC

Bringing Finance and Conservation Together: The Coalition for Private Investment in Conservation
Tuesday, 25 July 2017 at 1pm US EDT / 10am US PDT / 5pm UTC