Updates on MPA Networks in Progress: Experiences So Far in Victoria and West Hawai'i

MPA News

This past May at the Second International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC2), multiple sessions offered insights on existing MPA networks, and practitioners reflected on their experiences to this point. One of the most significant messages from the meeting was that some MPA networking initiatives have been in place long enough to begin yielding good practices. This month we examine two such networks: a state-run system of marine national parks in Victoria, Australia, and a network of fish replenishment areas to support the aquarium fishery in West Hawai`i.

CASE 1 - VICTORIA: A representative system of no-take areas

In 2002 when the state government of Victoria designated its system of 13 marine national parks and 11 marine sanctuaries in state waters, it was the first time a government had established an entire, representative MPA system all at once (MPA News 4:7). Covering 5.4% of Victoria's waters, the system was not easy to plan. The process lasted ten years, involved six periods of public comment, and was overseen by three successive state governments. The effort encountered delays due to many factors, including evolving views on the merits of multiple-use parks vs. no-take areas. Ultimately the entire system was made no-take. The government developed a program to compensate users displaced by the new MPAs.

With the system in place for seven years now, management is focused on improving its understanding of the protected sites and addressing threats to the system. And the state government has completed its five-year adjustment and compensation program.

Extensive mapping of habitats:

During the planning process for the MPA system and even into 2005, Parks Victoria had only low-resolution habitat maps for most of its waters, including the MPAs. In the past four years, managers have conducted a program to produce high-resolution maps of many of the MPAs, with some maps featuring higher resolutions than 1 km2. The idea behind these improved maps is to inform better management.

"An important part of the mapping process has been the input of managers into the scope, design, and products to make sure we produce the most useful mapping products possible," says Steffan Howe of Parks Victoria. "Maps can help identify areas vulnerable to the key threats identified for each MPA. This includes areas sensitive to physical damage, such as from anchoring, and areas sensitive to catchment-related runoff, such as seagrass beds." Parks Victoria and partners have already produced several habitat maps applied to particular management issues, and plan to produce a full range of applied maps related to the main threats to each of the MPAs.

Habitat mapping also has a range of other uses, says Howe. These include providing a baseline inventory of resources, informing emergency response planning, and simply discovering new aspects of the protected areas, which can be featured in public communications about the sites. Mapping can also track environmental change.

"The first mapping effort involved mapping of areas down to 10 meters depth using high-resolution aerial photographs that were ground-truthed using video," says Howe. "The second project was a deep-water mapping project that involved mapping areas from 10 to 105 meters depth through collection of hydro-acoustic data (using multibeam sonar), again with video ground-truthing. In both cases, ecological modeling was used to process the data collected to produce the final habitat maps."

Parks Victoria has partnered on the mapping with several institutions, including Primary Industries Research Victoria, the Coastal Cooperative Research Centre, the University of Western Australia, and Deakin University. Two other state government agencies, the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and the Department of Primary Industries (DPI), have also been involved.

Addressing land-based threats to the system:

When Victoria's MPA system was designated, fishing organizations criticized it as doing too little to address what they viewed as the main ecological problems facing Victoria's waters, particularly urban and rural runoff. Around 80% of Victorians live in coastal catchments, and populations are rising. Urban development and industrial and agricultural activity are creating diffuse and point source pollution via stormwater drains, sewage outfalls, and runoff.

Parks Victoria is taking a risk-based approach to management of the MPAs. Between July 2004 and February 2006, the agency held several risk assessment workshops across the state covering all the MPAs. The workshops allowed stakeholders to help identify valued attributes within the parks, as well as assess associated risks. Catchment-based runoff was identified as one of the major risks to the MPAs' natural values.

"For a parks management agency there are clear challenges in dealing with catchment-sourced nutrients or sediment loads, particularly where the park manager is not the land manager," says Howe. "Much of Victoria's urban and rural environments are managed by private landholders, local government, or other agencies. The challenge, as well as opportunity, is to form partnerships with the various groups directly responsible for land management. He says such partnerships can seek cooperative and integrated approaches to managing whole landscapes with a view to reducing loads on the receiving waters.

Parks Victoria has initiated or partnered with other institutions on several projects to address catchment-based threats to marine values. The agency refers to these as Catchment Connections projects, and Parks Victoria has been integral in developing a "whole-of-landscape" approach to water quality. One example is the Watsons Creek - Yaringa Integrated Catchment Project. It engages local government, agencies, farmers, and urban communities in initiatives to improve water quality in one of the region's most polluted streams, which flows into Yaringa Marine National Park (www.biosphere.org.au/projects/watsoncreek/index.html).

For a full description of Parks Victoria efforts to integrate MPAs into catchment management, as well as lessons learned from these initiatives, go to www.coast2coast.org.au/presentation-files/Rodrigue.html.

Compensating displaced users:

A key part of legislative negotiations on the Victoria MPA system was developing a program to compensate fishing-license holders for losses due to the new no-take areas. "The Victorian government was unable to get parliamentary support for marine national parks until it included a fisheries adjustment package in its legislation to create them," says Chris Smyth of the Australian Conservation Foundation. "Providing compensation to commercial fishing licensees was one of several measures used to enable displaced activities to adjust to the network. Without these measures there would have been further political pressure to move the parks away from fished areas, something that had already occurred during negotiations with the fishing industry. The result would have been a less representative network."

The adjustment and compensation program lasted five years. In all, the Victorian government made 156 payments totaling AU $4.52 million (US $3.55 million), according to Joan Phillips of the Victorian Environmental Assessment Council. Almost 70% of the total amount went to compensate increased operating costs, and approximately 30% for reduced catches.

For more information:

Steffan Howe, Parks Victoria, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. E-mail: showe [at] parks.vic.gov.au

Joan Phillips, Victorian Environmental Assessment Council, East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. E-mail: joan.phillips [at] dse.vic.gov.au

Chris Smyth, Australian Conservation Foundation, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. E-mail: C.Smyth [at] acfonline.org.au


BOX: Victorian MPA system is separate from South-east Commonwealth marine reserve system

The state of Victoria as a jurisdiction was not formally involved in the process to designate a representative system of marine reserves in adjacent Commonwealth waters, described in our February 2006 issue (MPA News 7:7). The latter system of reserves took effect in September 2007 and covers 226,458 km2, including examples of the diverse seafloor features and associated habitats found in the South-east marine region of Australia. That region stretches from the far south coast of New South Wales, around Tasmania and Victoria, and west to Kangaroo Island off South Australia. (See www.environment.gov.au/coasts/mpa/southeast/interim.html.)


CASE 2 - WEST HAWAI`I: A network of reserves to replenish an aquarium fishery

In 1999 a multi-stakeholder working group on the west coast of the island of Hawai`i approved a proposal to designate a network of fishing closures (MPA News 1:1). The nine closures, called fish replenishment areas (FRAs), were intended primarily to address a long-standing user conflict between dive tour operators and aquarium fish collectors. In the FRAs, which covered approximately 35% of the 240-km West Hawai`i coastline, diving would be allowed and aquarium fish collecting would not.

Over the past 10 years, the network has helped reduce the level of conflict between the groups. But it has also had a clear effect on populations of the main target species for aquarium collectors - yellow tang. There is spillover of adult yellow tang occurring across the FRA boundaries, indicating the protected areas may play an important role in sustaining stocks over the long term.

Evidence of spillover:

In a paper published in the May 2009 issue of the journal Biological Conservation, a team of researchers showed that prior to designation of the FRA network, yellow tang densities were similar at sites open to fishing and those slated for closure. By 2007, however, the closed areas had five times the density of target-sized fish, and 48% higher density of adults than open areas. The main evidence of spillover was this: densities of adults in so-called "boundary" areas (open areas less than 1 km from nearest MPA boundary) were significantly higher than in open areas far from MPA boundaries.

In light of the fact that the number of active aquarium fishers along the coast doubled from 1999 to 2007, as did the total catch of yellow tang, the authors suggested that the protected areas could be essential for supplying adult fishes to keep the fishery going. "The West Hawai`i protected area network, by sustaining adult stocks over large areas of the coastline, acts as a bulwark against overexploitation," wrote the research team, which included government and academic scientists.

The yellow tang fishery is relatively unique, at least compared to most commercial food fisheries. The prime target size for yellow tangs is 5-10 cm; this is when they are usually less than two years old and still juvenile. Adults on the other hand are not targeted by collectors and can live beyond 40 years, meaning that individuals that reach adulthood could be reproductively active for decades. Hence, for yellow tang, the FRA scenario contrasts with that of many other protected areas, where adult targeted fish are caught upon spilling over the reserve boundary.

Because juveniles are strongly site-attached, their abundance in open areas is dependent on natural levels of settlement and not directly affected by spillover, says Jeremy Claisse of the University of Hawai`i at Manoa, a member of the research team. "A main benefit [of the FRAs] is that more of the coastline will have higher adult densities than would be the case if fishing were unconstrained," says Claisse. "Most of the yellow tang settlement in West Hawai`i will be of fishes/larvae that originated from that immediate area, hence local fishers will benefit if population fecundity is sustained or enhanced by reserves."

With the increasing exploitation of yellow tang, the juvenile population has declined in the open areas by as much as 45% since 1999. Because adults are not fished, the fishery will receive greater reproductive output for every unit area of juvenile habitat that is protected, says Claisse. "These protected areas will provide additional adult spawning stock to the available adult habitat in the surrounding open areas," he says.

Role of public support:

Brian Tissot of Washington State University also co-authored the Biological Conservation study and has been active with the FRAs since their planning. He says the successful designation of the network resulted from three factors, all related to public support in some way.

"First, we had strong community support for the FRAs due to long-standing conflicts in the community around aquarium collecting, and MPAs were seen as the best solution to the problem," he says. "Second, we had strong legislative support. A bill was passed that established a flexible management framework. That framework created FRAs along a minimum of 30% of the coastline and also involved the community in co-management with the state. Third, it was critical to create synergy among state managers and biologists, academic scientists, outreach specialists, and students to educate the public and get folks involved in supporting management solutions. In the end we had 93% support at the public hearing that established the FRAs."

Opponents of the FRA plan included the aquarium collectors, though. They said they had been assured that no more than 30% of the coastline would be no-take. Ten years later they remain skeptical. A survey in 2007 of 22 aquarium collectors indicated most are still frustrated with the FRAs: 68% said they were either "dissatisfied" or "strongly dissatisfied" with the protected areas. Asked if they felt the FRAs had helped enhance reef fish populations, 45% called the FRAs ineffective while 23% called them effective. The rest were neutral.

"The overall level of satisfaction that fishers have with the FRAs is poor," says Todd Stevenson of Washington State University, who conducted the survey. "And fisher perceptions of how well the FRAs have performed in enhancing reef fish populations are inadequate."

The value of "before" data:

Critical to research of the network has been the existence of data collected along the coast prior to designation of the FRAs. Those "before" data allow researchers to differentiate between changes due to designation and changes that may be due to other factors.

"It is obviously very important from an experimental design perspective to have a complete 'before-after control-impact' (BACI) design," says Tissot. [Editor's note: BACI design was described in our December 2003/January 2004 issue (MPA News 5:6).] "The BACI design is the best possible approach for analysis of MPAs and is a statistically powerful way to tease out detailed changes over time. We also had two sets of controls to compare to the FRAs: 1) long-term protected areas that had been closed for at least 10 years prior to FRA establishment; and 2) areas still open to aquarium collecting. This allowed us to look both at where we expected the FRAs to go and what happened outside the FRAs once they were closed.

"Not having 'before' data always opens the door to some uncertainty regarding effectiveness," Tissot continues, "although it can be addressed in a variety of ways and is not insurmountable. Now, with 10 years of data, I would say the 'before' data are becoming less important as we focus more on the long-term trends."

For more information:

Jeremy Claisse, Hawaii Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Hawai`i at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawai`i, U.S. E-mail: claisse [at] hawaii.edu

Brian N. Tissot, School of Earth & Environmental Science, Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington, U.S. E-mail: tissot [at] vancouver.wsu.edu

Todd Stevenson, School of Earth & Environmental Science, Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington, U.S. E-mail: tcstevenson [at] wsu.edu