Improving MPA Management

Research is Essential to Maximise Benefits of Marine Protected Areas

Even though a lot of preparation and scientific investigation is required for the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs), even the most skilled marine scientists have limited knowledge of these remote areas.

The reason for this lack of knowledge is because previous marine conservation efforts have been focused on the minor coastal MPAs which were created before the more remote offshore MPAs, and are easier to study, monitor and protect due to their location and size. Coastal research findings can be extrapolated to offshore MPAs; however, it does not give a complete view of exactly what is happening in these regions. We can achieve such an understanding by increasing research efforts and communication, which would then inform governments and conservationists as to how to deliver meaningful ecological outcomes for these MPAs. Achieving this understanding requires extensive research and reporting and should help governments, scientists and conservationists design and implement large MPAs with strong environmental outcomes.

To identify gaps in research on large MPAs, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy project collaborated with fisheries scientists Chris Smith and Quentin Hanich of the University of Wollongong, Australia. They co-authored a paper, Large Scale Marine Protected Areas: Current status and consideration of socio-economic dimensions, summarizing the research needed to inform the management and design of large MPAs. It examines protected areas from multiple perspectives and addresses concerns from stakeholders and governments in developed and developing states. There is a broad number of areas where research could improve our MPAs, mainly in regard to migratory routes, Illegal Unregulated Unreported fisheries, climate change, traditional cultures and indigenous communities.

For example, the Papahanamukukia National Marine Monument in the Northwest Hawaii Islands was one of the first major marine protected areas in the world but was closed for commercial fishing only recently (2011). Moreover, there has been no follow up investigation into the economic or environmental impacts of this closure, its effects are unknown to stakeholders or the government. With the increasing creation of MPAs worldwide, it becomes necessary for research to be addressing such gaps to understand how large MPAs benefit both the ecosystem and its surrounding communities. The Ocean Legacy project aims to fill these gaps by working tightly with nonprofit organizations, universities and scientists. The Bertarelli Foundation’s Program in Marine Science (BPMS) is already filling these gaps with its research in the British Indian Ocean Territory.

The U.N Convention on Biological Diversity will meet in the coming year to set new global goals for the protection of global biodiversity. The UN aims to protect 10% of our oceans by 2020. With the deadline approaching, there is a chance for the UN to realign its goal with the more realistic recommendation of the IUCN for 30% of our oceans to be protected in a network of MPA by 2030. The establishment of such a network requires the implementation of many small to large MPA’s protecting all types of marine habitats and creating protected corridors along migratory routes. As stated in a landmark study “without adequate protection of species and ecosystems outside reserves, effectiveness of reserves will be severely compromised”. There is a need to look at our MPAs & fisheries as part of a whole in order to increase the sustainability of our oceans, worldwide. Habitats where marine life spawns, forages and breeds must be accordingly protected and managed with the best science and infrastructure available.