California's move to build a network of marine protected areas is the latest in a spate of North American efforts to design coherent MPA systems. Each of these projects is juggling the challenges of coordinating both the science and management of protected marine habitats.
The state of California (USA) will redesign and streamline its fragmented system of MPAs and establish no-take reserves as an essential component of the state's marine conservation plan, according to legislation passed by the state in October.
Named the Marine Life Protection Act, the new law calls for an overhaul of California's MPA system, which had been criticized by environmentalists and state officials as "confusing" and "falling far short of its potential." The law requires an evaluation of the effectiveness of California's MPAs in protecting marine life, and calls for creation of new MPA-siting guidelines.
It also suggests that the number of no-take reserves in California waters should be increased. Reportedly 0.2% of MPAs in California waters are currently designated as no-take reserves.
The Marine Life Protection Act represents one of the world's first regulatory attempts to network an MPA system of California's size, which features more than 100 sites.
Carol Bernthal is unique among sanctuary managers in the US National Marine Sanctuary Program. Rather than rising through the program's ranks to become superintendent of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS), Bernthal came straight from a job representing local indigenous tribes on regional resource issues. Bernthal's background provides her a good fit. Among the dozen sanctuaries in the National Marine Sanctuary Program, the OCNMS has the most interaction with indigenous peoples, with four Native American tribes living along its coastal boundary.
The involvement and education of stakeholders can play a key role in the success of MPA planning processes by building support in the community and reducing the likelihood of stakeholder opposition. At the International Workshop on the Role of MPAs and Integrated Coastal Management, held in late July preceding the Coastal Zone '99 Conference in San Diego, California, USA, more than 100 planners, managers, and academics laid out recommendations on how best to manage stakeholder involvement in the MPA planning process.
The table below provides a quick sampling of some of the suggestions provided by the assembled experts. The workshop divided participants by interest in geographic regions. Each composed a separate list of "do's" and "don'ts" in MPA planning. The table provides each tip according to the regional group that suggested it. Division into regions is not intended to suggest that tips work only in particular places.
Can marine reserves assist in improving the management of fisheries? This concept has received significant attention lately in the pages of scientific journals and on the agendas of fishery managers. Sometimes called "no-take zones," these protected areas have displayed some evidence of contributing to increased fish abundance outside their boundaries, namely through the outflow of larvae from the reserve. Fishery managers have generally welcomed what they see as a promising tool to help rescue declining fish stocks.
But what do we know about the science of marine reserves? How applicable are the scientific findings from one species and area to the next? The still-nascent science has focused primarily on reef species in tropical waters, while reserves with long-lived temperate species are less-understood. Some MPA experts suggest that it is too early to say that the value of marine reserves in fishery management has been proven.
A West Hawaii working group approved in March the proposal for a network of fish replenishment areas (FRAs) in which aquarium fish collection would be prohibited. In an attempt to end a longstanding feud between dive tour operators and fish collectors on the west coast of the island of Hawaii, the multi-stakeholder group voted to set aside a total of nine FRAs, representing 35% of the 150-mile (240 km) West Hawaii coastline.
Aquarium fish collectors boycotted the vote, insisting they had been assured the percentage would be no more than 30% of the coastline. They will be required to abide by the decision, however, which will be incorporated in the state's administrative rules.
Continuing its designation of national MPAs at a scale unmatched by other nations, the Australian government's latest endeavor will establish the world's largest no-take zone for commercial fishing, according to national officials.
The Australian government intends to declare a massive marine park around Macquarie Island, southeast of Tasmania in the Southern Ocean, that would span 16 million hectares (160,000 km2), of which nearly a third would be a no-fishing area. Announced in late June of this year, the plan to create the marine park will add yet another site to the country's fast-growing system of major marine ecological regions protected by law. It follows closely on the heels of Australia's designation of other MPAs, including last year's establishment of the Great Australian Bight Marine Park and this year's Tasmanian Seamounts Marine Reserve.
Building an ambitious national MPA program from the ground up, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has established six "pilot MPAs" in the past year and has plans for more soon. With an adaptive approach that emphasizes scientific research and the testing of protection strategies, DFO seeks to "learn by doing": through its pilots, it will determine whether the areas should be formally designated as MPAs and how they can best be managed, say officials.
DFO assumed responsibility for coordinating the nation's marine protected area programs in 1997 with the launch of Canada's Oceans Act, and it has moved quickly since then to set aside coastal and deepwater sites. Four pilot MPAs now exist on the West Coast (Race Rocks, Gabriola Passage, Endeavor Hot Vents, and Bowie Seamount) and two off the Maritimes on the East Coast (Basin Head and Sable Gully). Of these six, Basin Head is the newest, announced in June. DFO officials in Newfoundland, Quebec, and Canada's Arctic are expected to announce pilot MPAs in their respective areas in the coming year or two. Draft management plans for the existing pilot MPAs could be ready by early next year.
The working group of Tortugas 2000 -- a year-long collaborative process to create an "ecological reserve" in the Tortugas region of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) -- reached consensus in May on the recommended boundary for a zone in which all consumptive activities would be prohibited. Subsequently approved in June by the official advisory council of the Sanctuary, the recommended reserve is currently undergoing a draft supplemental environmental impact statement, due this October.