Letter to the Editor: Large MPAs Can Be a Distraction

MPA News

Dear MPA News,
In your January/February 2011 issue, Jay Nelson responded to remarks that I previously made regarding global MPA coverage and the role of large MPAs in ocean protection ("Letters to the Editor: Large MPAs are essential", MPA News 12:4). He and I are not so far apart as it might seem. We both agree and clearly state that we need large MPAs. Indeed in order to get to scale, particularly in offshore waters, the only way forward will be through very large MPAs. Out of context, my suggestion that establishing large MPAs can be like stamp collecting may seem at best trite, at worst insulting, so let me perhaps refine my point. I have two concerns:

  • First, we should not let the setting up of very large MPAs distract us from the equally important task of establishing small-scale and local MPAs, close to people where they can make a real difference to human well-being right now. Although large-scale, sweeping designations can greatly enhance the attainment of coverage targets by states, this strategy risks engendering complacency: why bother declaring MPAs in challenging locations at high cost (near populated areas) if you have already met or exceeded your nation's Convention on Biological Diversity target of 10% MPA coverage with one remote mega-MPA?

  • Second, there may be a temptation to rush the designations of large MPAs, particularly in areas where the political landscape seems simple and where commercial fisheries appear to be the only management concern. We must not let enthusiasm blinker due process. The two letters following on from Jay's underline this point better than I could: if the Chagos MPA had been established with endorsement from key stakeholders, it would represent a robust, built-to-last MPA. As it is, it has no management plan or formal regulations, and it is the object of three distinct legal challenges from the Chagossian people and the state of Mauritius. Will it outlast the ink-drying?

Mark Spalding
Senior marine scientist, The Nature Conservancy, Cambridge, UK. E-mail: mspalding [at] tnc.org