Do we risk falsely polarising arguments?

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By Dr Peter JS Jones, Dept of Geography, University College London (P.J.Jones [at]

Interesting tension between Edgar et al's paper (2014, arguing for large, isolated MPAs, isolation often meaning remote offshore, relatively unimpacted sea areas, even though they argue it does not necessarily mean this. So does remote often equate to residual, which Devillers et al (2014, criticise as biasing marine conservation away from impacted sea areas that are under pressure?

Of course, we need BOTH types of MPA, i.e. NEOLI MPAs, which will tend to be in more remote, lightly-used, unimpacted sea areas and smaller MPAs in more metropolitan, intensely-used and impacted sea areas that will need to be pursued in more participative and opportunistic ways. It is not a question of whether NEOLI MPAs are the only 'real' MPAs or of whether focusing on NEOLI MPAs biases conservation towards residual seas and away from metropolitan, intensely-used and impacted sea areas where MPAs are 'really' needed. The fact that we need a DIVERSITY of types of MPA is the message the MPA comminity needs to get out there and work with, otherwise we may polarise arguments leading to a business-as-usual approach amongst decision-makers, as MPA scientists continue to engage in polarised arguments?

Peter JS Jones, author of Governing MPAs - reslilience through diversity (


Peter, Interesting discussion indeed as there is an increasing polarization of the debate about the large remote MPAs, and you are certainly right by saying that we need both large remote MPA and smaller MPAs in areas being more intensively used (and higher threat to biodiversity). Keep in mind that Graham Edgar that leads the Nature paper is also a co-author on our AQC paper, which indicates that both views are important for us. I do think large remote MPAs have an important role to play but I am very worried when I see that they are slowly representing very large proportions of the global MPA coverage (our paper measured that about 75% of all global MPA coverage - which includes more than 5000 MPAs - will result from the presence from 15 large MPAs only). In such context, we are worried that government and the international community may get a false sense of satisfaction that conservation objectives (not only % targets) are met, while the actual effectiveness of this network of MPA would globally be debatable. So having large remote MPAs is good but the balance with other types of MPAs has to be right, and this is really when we criticize in my view.

Peter and Rodolphe, I think both papers offer a great synthesis of emerging MPA patterns, and I have passed them onward to colleagues. Hopefully we can avoid a re-hashing of the terrestrial SLOSS (single large or several small) arguments that went around & around in circles for years, like a snow leopard chasing its tail... First of all NEOLI (or LEONI, as I prefer to call it) has more that just an "L" in its name; i.e., it is not just about how large an MPA is. Edgar et al made that clear. Indeed small MPAs could still meet 4 of the 5 success criteria and do very well. I think the key point in your paper, Rodolphe, was not about size per se, but rather about the convenient placing of many MPAs (especially large ones) outside of where there are current industrial interests. That is a very different discussion. It is easy to see why large MPAs would be in remote areas, and why areas of intense human activities would favour only small MPAs... I think that is pretty self-evident. The issue, as I see it, is not small vs large, but rather how we decide to foreclose on economic opportunities, or not, in order to protect species / habitats / ecosystems. This is particularly difficult if nothing particularly "charismatic" is found in the area, leaving conservationists only with the representativity argument --not very persuasive to stakeholders and politicians, sorry to say. We have all spent significant portions of our limited lives in difficult marine planning processes, and think we can all agree that at the end of several years, we are often just relieved to have any protection at all... I am not saying this is the way it should be, but I think that we do have to inject a bit more reality into these theoretical discussions. Only then can we sort out pragmatic solutions on how to right the imbalances. All the best, Jeff

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