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.
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The Clinton administration has proposed that the US provide "no-take" status to at least 20% of its coral reefs by 2010 in the interest of protecting the reefs from overfishing. Describing the nation's coral reef system as being "in peril," administration officials voiced their intent to ban fishing on at least one-fifth of US coral reefs and establish sustainable management systems for the remainder.
The US Coral Reef Task Force, created by President Clinton in 1998, delivered the recommendations earlier this month (March) in a National Action Plan. The task force includes officials from 11 federal agencies as well as several state and territorial governments.
Less than 3% of the US' 17,000 sq. km of coral reefs are presently designated as no-take reserves. The task force estimated that 10% of the nation's coral reefs are already degraded beyond recovery, while another two-thirds are under severe environmental stress, with the two main stressors being overfishing and pollution.
By R.E. Johannes
[Editor's note: This article has been excerpted by MPA News from a contribution by R.E. Johannes, full text forthcoming in Marine and Coastal Protected Areas: A Guide for Planners and Managers [3rd edition], by Rod Salm and John Clark, to be available later this year. MPA News recognizes and appreciates the diversity of perspectives held by MPA experts around the world, and welcomes the use of MPA News for the sharing of these viewpoints. For guidelines, visit our website, at http://www.mpanews.org/.]
The government of the Bahamas has announced a plan to create five no-take reserves in its waters this year -- the first step in a process that could eventually close 20% of the country's marine environment to fishing, according to scientists and NGOs in support of the plan.
Announced on 13 January, the government plan designates five sites for no-take reserve status, based on a ranking of more than 30 candidate areas. The chosen sites, paired with the Bahamas' sole existing no-take reserve, would set aside roughly 4% (800 km2) of the country's marine environment as no-take areas, according to an estimate by the Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation (BREEF), an NGO that initiated the reserve-creation effort. Supporters of the plan, including the science team charged with recommending sites, have encouraged the government to enlarge the nascent network in coming years to comprise one-fifth of Bahamian waters.
The government, represented by the Bahamian Department of Fisheries, has so far set no boundaries for the five reserves, pending consultations with local communities. Details, too, on the reserves' assessment and management of resources have yet to be worked out, though officials expect to rely on local communities to enforce the reserves' fishing ban.
An advisory council to the Australian state of Victoria has released a draft recommendation that the state create a system of "highly protected" marine areas (i.e., no-take reserves) to protect fish breeding areas and other key habitats. The draft recommendation, if followed, would increase Victoria's total no-take area from 0.05% of the state's waters to over 6%.
The Environment Conservation Council (ECC) of Victoria offered the recommendation in a draft report, which is now open for public comment. The ECC advises the Victorian government on the use of public lands, with the goal of balancing the competing needs of resource users and the environment.
Specifically, the ECC's draft report names sites suitable for the creation of 12 "Marine National Parks", 11 "Marine Sanctuaries", and 15 smaller "Marine Special Management Areas". [For definitions of each of these terms, please refer to the box at the end of this article.] The Marine National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries would be no-take reserves, and, as recommended by the ECC, would cover 630 km2 of Victoria's marine environment.
In the last issue of MPA News (December/January), we initiated a discussion on the topic of MPA nomenclature. We reprinted the IUCN's and national definitions for "marine protected area", and provided a list of terms that had previously appeared in the newsletter to describe MPAs. "Ecological reserve", "highly protected zone", and "fish replenishment area" were some of the examples. At the end of the article, we solicited feedback on the topic from readers.
Below is one of the responses we received. We thank our contributors and welcome further responses by e-mail at mpanews [at] u.washington.edu. We look forward to printing more submissions in future issues. (Opinions expressed in the following letter are those of the author, and not necessarily of MPA News.)
Marine protected areas are designated mostly for the purpose of protecting coastal and marine resources from human-induced impacts. Nonetheless, natural events can cause just as great, or greater, disturbances to an MPA ecosystem in a day or week than most human activities can. The worldís coasts are subject to a wide variety of severe natural hazards -- hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis -- and MPAs are not immune from their impact. Natural climate variability, too, can cause significant shifts in species distribution, with die-outs of coral and other organisms.
These natural phenomena are inarguably a part of the ecosystems that MPAs are designed to protect, yet they can abruptly alter those very ecosystems and create real challenges for managers.
In light of the recent impact of Hurricane Lenny on the Soufrière Marine Management Area on St. Lucia (see next article), MPA News surveyed several experts for their thoughts on the role of natural hazard events and climate variability in MPAs. We also asked how managers could prepare for them.
Storm waves of 30 feet (9 meters) in height destroyed as much as 80% of the coral cover in some areas of the Soufrière Marine Management Area (SMMA) off the Caribbean island of St. Lucia on November 17. The SMMA, profiled in a 1997 Coral Reefs (16:150) article for one of its reservesí remarkable enhancement of fish biomass, has now lost much of its marine life, according to early damage assessments.
SMMA Manager Kai Wulf said his staff has conducted daily dive assessments since the storm waves, which had been triggered by Hurricane Lenny but were not accompanied by abnormal wind or rain. Divers have attempted to repair coral damage where possible, including by re-attaching pieces.
Representatives from Canada, Mexico, and the US met in November to discuss plans for a project to improve information exchange and build conservation capacity among marine protected areas in the three countries. Called the North American MPA Network, the project is intended to link these nationsí MPAs electronically via the World-Wide Web (WWW) and develop cross-cutting conservation initiatives among MPA sites.
The North American MPA Network will allow MPAs to benefit from coordinated conservation efforts, sharing of lessons learned, and increased access to information on emerging threats, novel management strategies, and funding or outreach activities.
What's in a name? Perhaps more than you bargained for, if you're in the field of MPAs. With practitioners seeming each month to cook up new terms for particular types of marine protected areas, staying up-to-date on the ever-expanding MPA dictionary has become somewhat challenging. Even at MPA News we sometimes can't remember the difference between a marine reserve, marine life reserve, and ecological reserve (or are they all the same...?).
To some extent, political prudence has driven the flourishing of terms describing MPAs. Several MPA experts, for example, have created new terms for "no-take zone" in an effort to put the idea of fish stock recovery in a more positive light for stakeholders, who are often fishermen. Rather than use a term with a potentially negative connotation like "no-take zone", the manager might use a term like "fish replenishment area", which focuses on the idea of rebuilding fish stocks instead of decreasing short-term harvests.
However, some critics have suggested that the growing thicket of terminology may be counterproductive to resource protection. Without a common understanding -- and, ideally, a legal basis -- for what these terms mean, they may end up meaning nothing, or everything. A marine protected area, sanctuary, or park established with no formal definition of these terms could in reality have no protection.