Special Section: Experiences in MPA Enforcement, Part II: More Tools and Strategies

MPA News

Having to enforce an MPA's regulations is more expensive than having the public comply voluntarily with those rules. Hence, public education about the need for an MPA - and the various benefits the MPA could provide to stakeholders over time - can be invaluable for both protecting the site and lowering management costs. In general, where there is broad public support for an MPA's goals, the odds of its success are greatest.

Unfortunately, there are few if any MPAs where 100% compliance with regulations is the case. So some degree of enforcement becomes necessary to stop illegal or simply negligent activity. Our previous issue (MPA News 11:5) featured several examples of tools and strategies developed for MPA enforcement - from high-tech methods of monitoring vast offshore closures...to building the ideal ranger station...to training rangers to serve as frontline educators. In this issue, we continue our coverage of MPA enforcement.


A. Investigating underwater crime scenes: Interview with Hector Cruz-Lopez

When rules or laws are broken in a park on dry land, the rangers there often use the same crime scene investigation (CSI) techniques that regular police do. The techniques - such as dusting for fingerprints or conducting ballistics tests on firearms - enable investigators to search for clues, collect evidence, and build legal cases against lawbreakers.

But in cases where illegal acts have been committed underwater, including in marine protected areas, the investigations have typically been more challenging. It is one thing for investigators to process a secured crime scene on land; it is something different to process a crime scene underwater in SCUBA gear amid a strong current.

But the field of underwater CSI is progressing quickly. Hector Cruz-Lopez, professor of forensic science at the Palm Beach State College Criminal Justice Institute in the US, has investigated dozens of underwater crime scenes in MPAs and elsewhere, and teaches courses on the subject. He says that nearly anything crime scene investigators can do on land, they can do in the water, too:

MPA News: What is the range of environmental crimes that could be investigated through underwater CSI?

Hector Cruz-Lopez: The types of environmental crimes typically investigated include poaching, physical damage to sensitive marine communities (i.e., coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove communities), illegal dumping, harassment of legal traps used to harvest commercial fisheries resources, collisions with marine mammals in no-wake zones, and use of illegal methods to harvest commercially and recreationally important species. In addition, underwater investigative techniques are used to search for and recover evidence that ends up in the water in connection with boat accidents, or is simply dumped in the water in an attempt to get rid of what can constitute evidence.

MPA News: Can you describe an investigation you conducted in an MPA?

Cruz-Lopez: In one case, I documented a trail of scars caused to a coral head and was able to match it to a particular propeller. In addition, measurements obtained from the underwater site were used to reconstruct the incident and determine that the operator of the boat was also speeding in a no-wake zone. In another case, a determination of how long a lobster trap had been submerged was used to demonstrate that a suspect had been harvesting lobster before the season opened.

MPA News: What are the limits of underwater CSI - for example, are there forensic techniques that work on land but not underwater?

Cruz-Lopez: In my opinion, the limits of underwater CSI in comparison to conventional techniques used on dry land are related to lack of knowledge and training. Unfortunately, typical underwater investigations have relied primarily on search-and-recovery instead of the methodical and proper crime scene investigation procedures implemented on land. It is actually possible to obtain and recover fingerprints and other types of sensitive evidence underwater if proper evidence collection procedures are applied. Water preserves different types of evidence as long as it is not displaced during the process of removal. A gun, for example, may contain gunpowder residue and biological evidence in its barrel until the moment the water in it is displaced. Therefore, in cases where firearms or other metal objects (spears, knives, harpoons) are found underwater, it is important that these pieces of evidence be packed in the same water in which they are found. In addition, trained underwater CSI will collect debris, mud, or sand immediately surrounding the pieces of evidence. Corrosion is the result of exposure to oxygen, so keeping metal objects in water actually prevents the process of oxidation from destroying important pieces of evidence such as fingerprints.

For more information:

Hector Cruz-Lopez, Palm Beach State College, Florida, US. E-mail: hector.cruz-lopez [at] myfwc.com


Editor's note: Jayson Horadam, who authored the following essay, has more than 20 years of experience in marine law enforcement and natural resource protection. He began his career in 1989 as an enforcement officer in what was then the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, in the US. In 2002, Horadam became the first captain of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Enforcement Team. He now runs MPA Enforcement International, a consulting firm.

B. MPA Perspective: Enforcement advice from an enforcer

By Jayson Horadam

Virtually every MPA will possess natural resources and unique features that set it apart from others around the globe. Size, location, prevailing weather conditions, funding, proximity to land, and surrounding socio-economic factors dictate the type and amount of enforcement protection applied. A successful enforcement program is designed around a system that utilizes all assets available to MPA management. While there may never be a "one size fits all" approach to MPA enforcement, there are standard concepts and applications that should never be overlooked:

Embrace technology: MPA enforcement has traditionally revolved around vessel patrols - an invaluable but limited tool. Vessel patrols can be very expensive and are prone to uncontrolled variables, including vessel crew issues (transfers, leave, training days, court days, etc.), vessel maintenance/repair, and associated cost and budget constraints. Advances in surveillance, detection, communication, and navigation can provide some alternatives or enhancement to routine vessel patrol. Conventional radar is a valuable tool, but limited by its relatively short range. New high frequency surface wave radar (HFSWR) is able to detect beyond the horizon and identify targets over 200 nm away.

Networking: Learn from other MPAs and enforcement agencies by visiting other sites or having the experts visit yours. Find out what has worked and what has not in their experience. Otherwise, reinventing the wheel is costly and time-consuming.

Hands-on training: While the classroom is necessary for learning the basics of enforcement, there is absolutely no substitute for hands-on training. This is why law enforcement agencies around the world employ dedicated field training officers (FTO) and FTO programs. From vessel boarding to evidence collection and documentation, training is the area that yields big results for any enforcement program.

Leadership: Leadership is one of the most difficult and ignored aspects of quality management. It is also the cornerstone for any successful enforcement program. Managers need to embrace it as such. Exceptional leadership will produce personnel who constantly look for ways to improve the operation, adapt to obstacles, be proactive, and become more efficient. Can leadership be taught and learned? Absolutely. Effective mentoring and training can prepare young officers to lead by example with honesty, integrity, and fairness.

Enforcement team: If at all possible, use dedicated enforcement personnel who are specifically trained and assigned to MPA enforcement. While memorandums of agreement and other forms of contractual work with outside agencies (such as coast guards) are common, they are not as effective as dedicated personnel:

  • In most cases with outside agencies, MPA enforcement will be secondary to their first duties and responsibilities;
  • Personnel from the outside agencies may not be trained on the specific rules and regulations of your particular MPA; and
  • MPA managers will often have little control over when and where the outside agencies patrol.

Instead, use outside agencies as a supplement to your own dedicated enforcement team. The agencies can still be a valuable asset and should be cultivated whenever possible.

Ambassadors: If an MPA has recreational or commercial activities associated with it, often the only contact these user groups will have with your organization will be through your enforcement officers on the front line. In some cases a single officer may make contact with dozens of people in a single day. As a result, your enforcement officers will need to be educators, outreach specialists, and interpreters, as well as enforcers.

Making enforcement more effective does not have to be expensive. Concentrate on the low-cost or no-cost intangibles listed above. Take on the leadership challenge and become a great leader - managers manage what is in place, whereas leaders lead their people to the next level. With all the rapid changes happening in the world's oceans, all MPA administrators should be pushing their programs to the next level.

For more information:Jayson Horadam, MPA Enforcement International, Florida, US. E-mail: jh [at] mpaenforcementinternational.com


C. Role of leadership in MPA enforcement success

Research by a team of faculty and students from the Institute of Marine Affairs at Taiwan's National Sun Yat-Sen University examined the role leadership can play in the successful enforcement of an MPA. In a management study of the 1.8-km2 Houbihu Marine Reserve, the research team recorded steep declines in poaching at the site in response to vigorous enforcement strategies instituted by a local police captain. The strategies included nighttime ambushes of illegal fishers and seizure of captured fishing gear.

"Although the reserve now is a successful MPA in maintaining its ecological functions, there is still a long-term challenge in preventing illegal activities," state the researchers. They note that the police captain was transferred to a terrestrial national park in 2009, and poaching events have increased in Houbihu Marine Reserve since then. "MPAs are already armed with formal laws," says Ting-Yu Lin of the research team. "However, enforcement depends on the capacity of leadership."

For more information:

Ting-Yu Lin and Jeng-Di Lee, Institute of Marine Affairs, National Sun Yat-Sen University, Kaohsiung, Taiwan. E-mail: m975070002 [at] student.nsysu.edu.tw and ottolee [at] mail.nsysu.edu.tw


D. Letter to the editor: Self-interest a powerful tool in preventing illegal activity in MPAs

Dear MPA News:
The article on MPA surveillance and enforcement (MPA News 11:5) was very good. However, it seemed to me to omit one of the most motivating characteristics of human nature: namely, self-interest. If people who follow the rules of an MPA can benefit in some way - either materially or emotionally - by preventing or reporting illegal activities, they can contribute to successful management at no cost.

Graeme Kelleher AO.
Canberra, Australia. E-mail: graempa [at] home.netspeed.com.au

(Graeme Kelleher is former chairman of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and author of Guidelines for Marine Protected Areas [1999, IUCN], available at www.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/PAG-003.pdf.)