Despite the international distribution of many marine ecosystems, efforts to provide international management plans for them have been slow in coming. Transboundary ecosystems have generally received piecemeal protection at most, with only rare efforts by planners to coordinate conservation efforts across political lines. Ecosystems on the high seas have received virtually no protection, save for the UN-sponsored multilateral agreement to protect Antarctic waters.
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In response to calls from conservationists and scientists, President Clinton has ordered US federal agencies to establish a comprehensive national network of marine protected areas throughout US marine waters. Executive Order #13158, delivered May 26, calls for expansion of the nation's MPA system to include examples of all types of US marine ecosystems.
Clinton's action represents the first official US directive to coordinate the nation's unsystematic array of MPA-related initiatives. The Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- which oversees the US National Marine Sanctuaries, among other MPAs -- will be in charge of developing a single framework to manage the national system. The framework will be intended to support, rather than limit, agencies' independent exercise of their existing authorities.
To set the framework, NOAA will team with the Department of the Interior, which oversees National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges. Following Clinton's announcement, NOAA Administrator James Baker remarked that the order will improve the US' current fragmented MPA system. "We don't have a master plan that says, 'This is how this all fits together scientifically,'" he said. "That's what we're trying to put together here."
President Clinton's executive order places the US in a group with Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, and a small number of other nations, with each having stated its intent to create a "representative" national network of MPAs.
The word "representative" regularly appears in protected-areas planning, and designation of representative networks has long served as a goal in terrestrial land management. Building a network of protected areas representing a variety of ecosystems is intended to ensure protection for biodiversity.
But at what scale should planners implement such representativeness? And what does "representative" really mean? For guidance, MPA News consulted the literature and queried some experts.
MPA News received several letters in response to the article in our May 2000 issue, "Closing 20% of the Ocean: Pro-Reserve Target is Finding Way into Policies." Some readers supported the use of percentage targets in setting aside no-take zones, while others questioned the merits. We print some of their responses below:
Maps play an integral role in the operation of marine protected areas. Used to define boundaries and to mark the locations of marine resources, human uses, and natural processes, maps provide essential information for planning and management.
MPA practitioners' mapping strategies are often affected by the world around them, including such factors as funding, available technology, and political concerns. This month, MPA News examines how several practitioners have adapted their mapping strategies to suit their situations.
The political target of setting aside 20% of ocean habitats as no-take zones by the year 2020, or earlier, has recently found its way into several MPA-related policies in the Western Hemisphere. Since January, government organizations in the Galápagos Islands (MPA News 1:7) and the US (1:6) have adopted a 20% closure figure as a target for protecting their coastal waters and coral reefs, respectively. A science panel advising the Bahamian government on its upcoming national reserve system recommended that the eventual network close at least 20% of the Bahamas' shelf edge (1:5). The target has appeared, too, in discussions on California's MPA system (1:3) and in a recommendation offered by several scientists and NGOs for the protection of US marine waters (1:6).
The 20% closure figure has clearly emerged as a tool in MPA negotiations and policymaking, at least in the Americas. Where did this target come from, and when is it useful?
Management of one of the most famous marine ecosystems in the world will now include no-take zones, following last month's conclusion of years of negotiations between managers and fishers in the Galápagos Islands.
The Galápagos Marine Reserve, officially created in 1998 but not zoned until now, will be divided into three basic zone types: strict nature reserves, in which only scientists will be allowed; no-take zones, managed for tourism, recreation, and education; and "extraction zones", in which managed fishing will be allowed.
About 20% of the coastline will be no-take zones. Managers made concessions on scheduling the phase-in of some zones, and offered fishers priority for new tourism activity permits as an incentive to leave the fishing sector.
Continuing its campaign to develop a nationally representative system of MPAs, the Australian government has announced plans to establish a multi-use marine park around a seamount system that includes one of the southernmost coral reefs in the world.
The proposed protected area, to be called Lord Howe Island Marine Park, would encircle the Lord Howe Island seamount and its associated marine ecological systems, off the coast of the state of New South Wales (NSW). Measuring 3000 sq. km, it would lie within 3 and 12 nautical miles (nm) from the coast of Lord Howe Island, Ball's Pyramid, and their adjacent islands. The zone within 3 nm of the coast is already designated as a state marine park, operated by the NSW government.
Note from the editor: The field of marine protected areas is benefiting from an ever-expanding library of books and reports on aspects of planning and managing MPAs. As a service, MPA News will offer brief reviews of publications that may be of special interest to subscribers. Although the geographic focus of each of the following publications is limited to the North and South American continents, the usefulness of each will likely stretch beyond that hemispheric bound of study.
Amid the growing recognition of marine protected areas as a useful resource management tool, two things stand out to enable MPAs to achieve their resource management goals. Effective institutions and processes must exist to plan and support the MPAs, and qualified managers and other personnel must be available to oversee them. Without these ingredients, an MPA may well "protect" in name only.