The 30% no-take target of the World Parks Congress: Why it is both problematic and useful

MPA News

In our previous issue, MPA News reported on the outcomes of the World Parks Congress, held in Sydney, Australia, in November 2014 (MPA News 16:2). Convened once a decade, the WPC sets priorities for the next ten years of protected area practice. The central output of November's meeting was The Promise of Sydney: this document compiles recommendations from multiple "themes" and "streams" of delegates at the meeting, grouped by subject matter (www.worldparkscongress.org/about/promise_of_sydney.html).

The WPC's Marine Theme was led by four institutions: the World Commission on Protected Areas - Marine, the (US) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and Australia's Department of the Environment. This theme provided its own set of recommendations (http://worldparkscongress.org/downloads/approaches/ThemeM.pdf), which the theme's organizers had developed with community input leading up to and through the Congress.

The primary recommendation from participants in the Marine Theme featured a percentage-based target for no-take areas:

"Recommendation 1. Urgently increase the ocean area that is effectively and equitably managed in ecologically representative and well-connected systems of MPAs or other effective conservation measures. This network should target protection of both biodiversity and ecosystem services and should include at least 30% of each marine habitat. The ultimate aim is to create a fully sustainable ocean, at least 30% of which has no extractive activities." [emphasis added]

However, as pointed out by a reader of MPA News (http://openchannels.org/node/8515 - scroll down for his comment), this percentage-based target could be seen as conflicting with recommendations from another group of delegates at the WPC: namely Stream 1, which focused on Reaching Conservation Goals (http://worldparkscongress.org/downloads/approaches/Stream1.pdf). In its recommendations, Stream 1 did not call for a specific percentage-based target. In fact, it called such targets "problematic":

"Recommendation 20: Governments and peoples must move far beyond the Aichi targets to adaptive conservation systems that are based on halting biodiversity loss.... This must be done balancing biodiversity and human needs. We need to increase conservation until biodiversity loss is halted. The total area of protected areas and connectivity lands needs to be far higher than current conceptions and delegates agreed on the importance of setting ambitious targets. Percentage targets are problematic in focusing on area at the expense of biodiversity objectives. Nonetheless, many delegates argued that these should be around 30% of the planet for no-take reserves, 50% overall protection, and 100% of the land and water managed sustainably." [emphasis added]

So does this mean there is a conflict between Stream 1 and the Marine Theme on a percentage-based target? If so, whose recommendation should take priority, and what does this all mean going forward for the MPA field?

Increasing protection until the loss of biodiversity stops

As anyone who has observed the crafting of recommendations at large international meetings can attest, things can move quite quickly between drafts, with language changing - sometimes significantly - over the course of a few hours. In the case of the WPC, leaders of the themes and streams had an opportunity to preview early drafts of recommendations from their peers ahead of the meeting. Once the WPC began, though, it became more difficult to follow what was going on in each group.

"At the Congress, things were moving very quickly and it wasn't possible to track everything that was happening at once," said Lauren Wenzel, acting director of NOAA's National MPA Center, in an 8 January 2015 webinar "Keeping the Promise of Sydney" (https://www.openchannels.org/node/8559). "So we did have somewhat different philosophical approaches to some of these discussions. I think the marine community felt it was important to honor the commitments that were made in Durban [at the 2003 WPC, where marine delegates called for between 20-30% of the world's oceans to be placed in no-take areas] and to try to move the ball forward. Spatial targets were a good way of doing that."

Hugh Possingham of the University of Queensland, who co-developed the conservation planning software Marxan, was instrumental in the drafting of recommendations from Stream 1. Although he had no official role in the Stream's drafting process, the ideas he delivered to the Stream's delegates in a talk on the second-to-last day are directly embodied in many of the recommendations.

"Spatial targets are misleading," says Possingham. "How much does nature need in terms of protected areas? The only real answer we have right now is 'more', because what we have now is demonstrably insufficient to stem the loss of biodiversity."

According to Possingham, a better approach than percentage targets would be an adaptive one: keep increasing the amount of area that is protected - and its representation - until biodiversity losses fall to background rates, at which point we can stop. Conceivably, this might mean protected percentages of significantly higher than 30%. In fact, Possingham views 30% no-take coverage as the "bare minimum" for sustainable marine ecosystems and fisheries, based on various studies (like http://palumbi.stanford.edu/manuscripts/Gerber%20et%20al%202003.pdf).

Although that minimum is not communicated in the stream's Recommendation 20, the phrase "[t]he total area of protected areas and connectivity lands needs to be far higher than current conceptions" refers to Possingham's concept. Incidentally, a near-final draft of Stream 1's recommendations called for a 30% target for no-take MPA coverage; that call was removed in the final version.

Balancing aspirational and operational goals

IUCN, which produces the WPC meetings, is managing a process now to harmonize the recommendations of the various themes and streams from Sydney. This will include addressing the MPA percentage target question. Meetings among theme/stream leaders will occur in coming months.

Asked whether he feels the Marine Theme recommendations or the Stream 1 recommendations should take precedence, Possingham suggests taking the 30% target but adding a big caveat. "No specific percentage will secure biodiversity, and any target between 30% and 100% would be a compromise reflecting different aspirations of users and stakeholders," he says. He notes that setting high targets can be discouraging - for resource users (because they feel their activities are threatened) and for conservationists (because they feel the targets may be impossible to reach). "This is as much about the management of aspirations and hopes as it is about the science," says Possingham.

Management of aspirations may also be a factor in discussions on the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, under which Aichi Target 11 (binding on signatory governments) calls for just 10% of marine areas to be conserved by 2020, with no mention of no-take coverage. That target greatly lags the (non-binding) recommendations from Sydney. Dan Laffoley, WCPA - Marine chair, says the Sydney target could be useful for directing the forthcoming CBD conversations.

"What happens after 2020?" says Laffoley. "I think we need to put in place a new vision for what countries should do with regard to MPAs. Sitting where we are, knowing what we know about the multiple stresses facing the marine environment and the directions of a lot of ecosystem indicators, we need to apply a much more ambitious vision for MPA coverage, and very soon." Notably, current no-take coverage still amounts to less than 1% of the world ocean.

Laffoley also notes that the outcomes of the WPC are not all about percentage targets. "We need to bear in mind that there are a couple aspects to this," he says. "One is the aspirational material, the targets, that we talk a lot about at congresses like the WPC. There's also the operational side - the practical steps of making MPAs effective." The Marine Theme recommendations from Sydney include calls for applying new surveillance tools, supporting collaborative learning between fisheries and MPA managers, managing sites for human as well as ecological benefits, and developing innovative partnerships, including for creative financing of sites.

Leading up to the next World Conservation Congress (in Hawaii in 2016) and the next International MPA Congress (Chile in 2017), the Marine Theme organizers will be developing plans and projects to help support these site-level goals. Says Wenzel, "We're going to be focusing on the practical steps of making these things happen, and not just on a number."

For more information:

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

Dan Laffoley, WCPA - Marine, UK. Email: danlaffoley [at] btinternet.com

Hugh Possingham, University of Queensland, Australia. Email: h.possingham [at] uq.edu.au


BOX: More MPA News coverage of percentage targets for MPAs

Over the years, MPA News has published several articles on percentage-based targets, including voices in favor of broader-scale management for the whole ocean or in favor of not setting percentage targets at all. Our range of coverage includes:

  • "New calculation of world MPA coverage is twice previous estimates, but still far below target" MPA News 14:1

  • "The MPA math: How to reach the 10% target for global MPA coverage" MPA News 13:5

  • "How close is the MPA field to meeting its targets?" MPA News 12:1

  • "Global targets for MPA designations will not be met; experts respond" MPA News 7:5

  • "Perspective: Dangerous targets and inflexible stances threaten marine conservation efforts" MPA News 3:11

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

Comments

I really think this discussion needs to go beyond the MPA crowd. Of course the World Parks Congress would endorse ambitious targets: to all those MPA managers carrying hammers, everything looks like a nail. In trying to market MPAs and get more of them, we forget that MPAs, and even spatial management more broadly, are not the answer to all marine woes. MPAs cannot restore natural balances to ecosystems - as the recent article on lobster populations in the Lundy MPA demonstrates - unless they are very, very large and managed across the whole of that large space. Nor can they deal with habitat loss, pollution, and cumulative pressures that build outside the protected areas - in fact they can exacerbate these through displacement effects. I think we should remind MPA News readers that the World Parks Congress is a self-selecting group, and that we'll only see real progress in the effective use of the MPA tool when marine managers outside the MPA community recognize the opportunities and limitations in discrete protected areas. The best hope, I feel, is for marine spatial planning practitioners to recognize what can be done with no-take zones in a broader, multi-use planning framework.

Nobody, including 'the MPA crowd', seriously considers MPAs to be the only approach to managing human uses of marine resources and ecosystems. No-take MPAs as an element of MSP is a worthy hope, but no-take MPA coverage as an element of MSP could itself be subject to a target and would have to be combined with improvements in wider-scale approaches to fisheries management, etc.

Certainly not convinced of the argument that "MPAs cannot restore natural balances to ecosystems - as the recent article on lobster populations in the Lundy MPA demonstrates", as this article does not demonstrate this (see blog on this) and we have moved on from notions of the 'natural balance of nature' in recognizing dynamism and complexity. Let's have debates about MPAs as elements of wider-scale governance approaches (ecosystem-based MSP including fisheries management, wider habitat loss control, pollution control, cumulative impact management, etc) but let's not simplistically dismiss MPAs on the basis that 'the MPA crowd' consider them the only tool in the box and have forgotten the need for wider-scale approaches, as debates have surely moved on.

Of course we need debates 'outside of the MPA community' but this community should be included in such debates rather than dismissed on the false grounds that it considers MPAs to be the only tool on the box. If 'the MPA crowd' accept that wider-scale approaches are also necessary, advocates of wider-scale approaches, e.g. fisheries scientists, should accept that MPAs are also necessary? I worry that the divide between proponents of MPAs and proponents of wider-scale approaches (such as fisheries management) is widening  (see paper on this [1]) and arguments are regressing back to whether we need MPAs or wider-scale approaches, when most people have accepted that we surely need both?

[1] Jones P.J.S. (2007) Point of View - Arguments for conventional fisheries management and against no-take marine protected areas: only half of the story? Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 17(1), 31-43. doi:10.1007/s11160-006-9016-8 - Open access copy of paper. The divide between some fisheries scientists and marine ecologists over the role of MPAs and wider fisheries management approaches is also discussed in the book Governing Marine Protected Areas: resilience through diversity in the section 'Divergent views and the quest for common ground' (pp. 46-55). MPA Governance project www.mpag.info

Add new comment

Sign-in with your OpenChannels Member Account and sign-up for email notifications of news. Simply visit any news post and click the "Subscribe to updates of new content of this type" link just above the comments section.