Blue Solution: A science-based management model to protect isolated and vulnerable subantarctic ecosystems

MPA News

Editor’s note: The Blue Solutions initiative supports the exchange of successful approaches to marine and coastal conservation and development, sharing what worked where and why. Each case is authored by a practitioner and published on the Marine and Coastal Solutions portal of the PANORAMA – Solutions for a Healthy Planet web platform. MPA News is drawing from these cases.

The subantarctic ecosystems of the French Southern Lands (Terres australes françaises, or TAF) consist of several small island groups and their surrounding waters in the southern Indian Ocean. None are permanently inhabited by humans. The ecosystems are relatively unique by virtue of their location and isolation, and are viewed as particularly vulnerable to pressures, from fishing to climate change. Nonetheless, the remoteness has historically made researching, surveilling, and supplying the areas a challenge, leaving data gaps.

How the challenges have been addressed

Since the 1950s, the regional authority of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (its French acronym is TAAF) has emphasized the TAF as an open-sky laboratory for natural scientists. The first scientific stations in the TAF region, built decades ago, now constitute its district capitals, and welcome more than 200 scientists annually from 60 research programs.

Science and conservation are viewed as a keystone of French sovereignty in the region. Cooperation between TAAF administration and the scientific community led to designation in 2006 of the TAF Nature Reserve (originally 7700 km2 on land and 15,700 km2 at sea), and expansion of the reserve’s marine area in 2016 to a total of 672,969 km2. (Of that, 128,000 km2 is now a strict no-take zone.) One of the largest MPAs in the world, the TAF Nature Reserve is managed by TAAF and supported by a scientific committee.

To address data gaps in management – particularly for offshore and deep-sea areas – the reserve’s first management plan (2011-2015) emphasized the need for more research: more than a third of the 90 actions in the plan involved research activities. That will continue in the second management plan (2018-2027): 40% of the new plan’s actions address knowledge improvement. This is evidence not only of the influence of scientists in the reserve’s planning and management, but also the fundamental role that science plays in the MPA.

Lessons learned

  • Long-term engagement of scientists in governance and management of the reserve, including in development of management plans, has helped ensure their support for conservation actions.
  • While the mutual benefits of conservation and science activities are acknowledged by both scientists and the TAAF authority, a clear statement of each entity’s responsibilities is essential to avoid conflicts.
  • Despite the fact there are few direct TAF stakeholders beyond scientists and the fishing sector, the prioritization of actions to be conducted in a very large MPA can still be a complex matter, particularly in the context of an area that is remote and has limited financial, human, and technical resources.

For more information on this case, please visit the PANORAMA web platform.