MPA Science Corner: Impact of human activity on coral reef MPAs - Questioning large open-ocean MPAs - Questioning calculations of global MPA coverage

MPA News

These recent articles or preprints on MPA-related science and policy are all free to access.

Article: Suchley, A. & Alvarez-Filip, L. “Local human activities limit marine protection efficacy on Caribbean coral reefs.” Conservation Letters e12571 (2018)

Finding: This study of seven coral reef MPAs and nearby unprotected areas in the Mexican Caribbean – a region with burgeoning coastal development in recent decades – found that coral cover was positively related to protected status, but was significantly lower at sites near elevated local human activity. The authors call on policy makers to acknowledge the impact of uncontrolled coastal development on corals and to apply stronger regulations.

Preprint: Magris, R. A. & Pressey, R. L. “Marine protected areas: Just for show?” Science 360, 723.2 - 724 (2018)

Finding: The authors question the wisdom of designating large, open-ocean MPAs as an effective conservation strategy. They make the case that the recent planning of two such MPAs in Brazil adhered poorly to best practices in conservation planning.  

Article: Sala, E. et al. “Assessing real progress towards effective ocean protection.” Marine Policy 91, 11 - 13 (2018).

Finding: The authors state that only 3.6% of the ocean is in MPAs that have been implemented with active management – as opposed to simply being announced or designated. And only 2% is implemented in MPAs that are fully protected (no-take) or strongly protected (recreational or artisanal fishing allowed). They argue that current protection is often overestimated because it includes areas that are not yet actually protected, and that areas that allow significant extractive activities such as fishing should not count as protected.

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In addition, OCTO – the organization that produces MPA News and OpenChannels – also runs MarXiv, the free research repository for marine conservation science and marine climate change science. Each week the MarXiv team produces brief, one-page summaries of selected papers in its repository for an audience of managers and policymakers. Share your research in MarXiv now and we may summarize your paper, too!


The piece by Magris & Pressley repeats the usual flawed arguments against oceanic MPA designation which do not conform to the diktats of the "wise chosen ones" of academia. There seems to be a difficulty by those living in the ivory towers to recognize that conservation in practice is more often than not a cost-benefit analysis and a seizing of opportunities where they appear, and that although far from ideal, this is sometimes the ONLY way to make progress on the ground - and progress does happen as proven by the benefits of MPAs worldwide. Should these people walk into the sunlight one day and help campaign down here for the actual establishment of MPAs, instead of sticking to the whining from afar in the pages of journals almost no one reads in the real-world community of practice of developing countries, maybe we can improve the designation process and implementation activities... but that is as difficult to achieve as getting a developing country politician to agree to their "ideal" MPA siting and boundaries!

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