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Effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas

Effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas

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Published by Stefan Thiesen
The question is: are marine protected areas a valuable tool for marine conservation and fisheries management, and if si - under which conditions? This paper explores the question from a philosophical point of view.
The question is: are marine protected areas a valuable tool for marine conservation and fisheries management, and if si - under which conditions? This paper explores the question from a philosophical point of view.

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Published by: Stefan Thiesen on Mar 10, 2009
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Are Marine Protected Areas a valuable Toolfor Conservation, Fisheries Management orboth?
A brainstorming - by Stefan Thiesenthiesen@uni-muenster.de
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world. The unreasonable one persist in trying toadapt the world to himself 
George Bernard Shaw.
Although the science of marine protected areas may be relatively young, the practice of marine and terrestrial resource protection and management (in the widest sense) as well theestablishment of terrestrial protected areas have a long history in many traditions and cultures.Historically it is only the modern western capital and growth oriented society thatincorporated the idea of limitless growth and limitless extraction and consumption of naturalstock on a large – now global – scale. Pre-industrial and pre-capitalist societies as well assubsistence based cultures have always been well aware of the limits of natural resources – now called natural capital. The main reason may well have been the previous absence of anobvious divide between nature and culture, since human affairs were more clearly perceivedas interwoven with and dependent on the natural environment.The expression “common sense” has no place in modern science, but even modernscience is beginning to appreciate that the “common sense” of experienced experts in a givenfield does have a significant validity. For the traditional Hawaiian fishermen it was commonsense that disturbing reef communities by overfishing of single species would alter “makeup”of the reef communities. They did not carry out quantitative studies, they did not usestatistical analysis, and yet they had a common empirically obtained knowledge base thatcame down through generations
Marine Protected Areas as a tool for Conservation
The issue at question is: Are Marine Protected Areas a valuable conservation tool? Do MarineProtected Areas help solving the global fisheries crisis? These questions themselves raiseother questions, for example: What are conservation goals? What is the fisheries crisis? Whatcauses the fisheries crisis? For the sake of simplicity I define “fisheries crisis” as continuoustake beyond the real-world maximum sustainable yield with resulting collapse of takenspecies, dramatic alteration of ecosystems and substantial loss of marine biodiversity. It isunlikely that a collapse of fisheries is a true economic problem on a global scale, as capital islikely to seek other investment opportunities once fishery seizes to be profitable. The humandimensions of course include regional unemployment, problems of food supply andsignificant human misery – which, as cynical as it may sound, are not necessarily issues beingof any concern for economic interests at large. Conservation goals also are not easily defined,also because the sea is a system constantly in flux, so it is not entirely clear what precisely itis aside from human economic interests that are to be conserved.
In any case, a marine protected area basically changes the economic rules of a given area byremoving it from the access of human economic activity (in the case of a no-take reserve) or  by strictly regulating economic activities in this area (in the case of strictly managed fisheriesand marine harvesting). The latter is pretty much the resource management practice of manytraditional cultures
.By now Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been brought into life by several countries. Thegeneral rules and criteria were created by the World Conservation Union. Among the criteriaare:
Pristine state?
Biogeographical importance
Ecological diversity
Economic status
Scientific value
Social benefitsUntil now these protected areas all are located in territorial seas or exclusive economic zonesand thus are managed by certain countries. Among the countries with most experience in thisrespect is New Zealand. No other country has set up more MPAs, and the two largest reservesare comprised of the complete territorial marine area of two archipelagos: the KermadecIslands and the Auckland Islands. These two open-sea reserves are particularly valuable sincethey include deep- and shallow waters, Islands and seamounts with all the known factorsleading to biological diversity (deep-water turbidity, upwelling of cold nutrient rich deep-seawater etc.). However, although New Zealand is a world leader in marine protected areas, thenear shore MPAs all in all only make up 0.3% of the entire territorial seas of New Zealand,with the largest reserve being around the Poor Knights Islands in the North of the Country.Even the largest reserve only covers an area of merely 2000 Hectar. Recently a study on theeffectiveness of 19 Marine reserves worldwide was completed, and it had shown that the areasdid have a significant positive impact
Overall marine biodiversity increased
The Number of fish species increased (on average 11% comp. to other regions)
The total (of otherwise exploited) fish abundance increasedAll in all these results seemed to suggest that even MPAs of limited scope and dimension can be a valuable conservation tool. Although lots of research needs to be done, it is safe to saythat they certainly are better than nothing and help preserve local marine biodiversity. Thecase is still out on how much better than nothing they actually are. A study by the Universityof Auckland’s Leigh Marine Laboratory arrived at different conclusions
. According to a paper published by the researchers Mark Costello and Camilo Mora, many of the existing protected areas are under threat from over harvesting and pollution. According to Mora et al:
18.7% of Coral reefs are technically protected by MPAs
In less than 2% of the coral reefs regulations are strictly enforced
Eutrophication, pollution, siltation and poaching are continuous problemsAccording to the study 40% of the marine protected areas are less than 1 to 2 km² in size,which is too small to provide any protection at all for larger and often far travelling speciessuch as marlin, tuna and squid. Especially the large predatory species do not stay within limits
of small protected areas and hence can be lost to harvesting, because they are of significantinterest to fishermen.The researchers recommend that every MPA should be at least 10 to 20 kilometres indiameters to provide a larger habitat for some species. Additionally they should be spaced in away that allows for genetic exchange between the MPAs. To achieve this it would be enoughto protect about 25.000 km² of the existing coral reefs, or roughly 5% respectively.Costello remarked
We were expecting a poor result, but not numbers of this magnitude. This study of protected areas worldwide suggests we are not reaping their potential positive benefits and stemming the current decline of coral reefs worldwide
."His co-author and fellow researcher Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University submits an even bleaker view:"
What we found, in essence, is that we are creating paper parks. The establishment of Marine Protected Areas is rarely followed by good management and enforcement. And whilemanagement of MPAs varies worldwide, it was particularly low in areas of high coral diversity such as the Indo-Pacific and the Caribbean
."In other words: much remains to be done, and it is everything but clear if it will be done.
Marine Protected Areas for Fisheries Management:
Especially traditional island people in regions with limited resources have a long history of resource protection and management, also in the field of fisheries and coastal zonemanagement. One example is the traditional Hawaiian land- and coastal management conceptcalled “Ahupua’a”. The Ahupua’a regulates land- and water usage from the mountains intothe sea, and the “land” division stretches all the way to the outer fringing reef. Source regionsof rivers and streams were protected areas, pollution of rivers was prohibited and marineharvesting also was closely monitored. Rules existed for the size- and varieties of fishes andother marine creatures that could be taken. Coastal fish-ponds were established that had a dualeffect: they kept runoffs from streams away from the pristine lagoon waters and at the sametime took advantage of these nutrient enriched waters that had passed through fertilized fields.These nutrients allowed for an amazingly sophisticated aquaculture. The Ahupua’a integrated protection and economic use by applying an integral view of man, society, culture and naturethat goes beyond most modern integrated management approaches
. As the Maori elder Huhana Mihinui explained about pre-Western Maori resource management
Managing our resources was a way of life when I was growing up. Our resources were our livelihood and, therefore, carefully looked after. Sustainability was not only about protecting resources, but also about routine. We had a routine and we had disciplines. There was nomanagement without discipline. Resource sustainability meant our own survival. (…) the food resources were protected or utilised depending on need. Conservation is a very important  part of resource management, but exploitation is also.
This view makes no distinction between “conservation” and “usage”. Conservation is a prerequisite of usage, a part of resource management. Economy and ecology are no separateentities. And as a physicist I must say they indeed are not, and as long as humans will be a part of the game, economy will always remain a subset of ecology – or at least of nature.

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