A special section of the journal Marine Policy (outline) has just been published that explores the realities of how marine spatial planning is actually implemented, through 12 case studies around Europe, employing a structured qualitative empirical approach. This represents a novel approach to research on marine spatial planning based on realities, rather than the theoretical and conceptual approaches taken by many such studies.
Targets for marine conservation have been important since 1998, when 1605 scientists from around the world signed a call for governments to protect 20% of the world’s seas from all threats by 2020. Since then, there have been several formal targets for MPA coverage, most significantly the Convention on Biological Diversity’s ‘Aichi target’ that at least 10% of the world’s seas should be effectively conserved through systems of MPAs by 2020. The achievement of such targets has increasingly been progressed through the designation of giant MPAs, often surrounding islands in remote oceans, i.e. vast remote MPAs. The first VRMPA was the 340,000 km2 Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, designated in 2000, as part of Bill Clinton’s departing environmental legacy, and larger than all of America’s national parks combined. This VRMPA was later included in the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, this 2006 designation by George Bush building on the previous one. Initially open to bottom trawling, all fishing throughout the PMNM was banned in 2011, as whilst ‘bigger is better’, it is also considered that ‘no-take is best’. The race was on.
The book Governing Marine Protected Areas: resilience through diversity (Jones PJS 2014) is now available in paperback, after very good sales of the hardback version around the world. The price of the paperback version is £22 or $40 with the discount code DC361 when purchasing directly from Routledge. See www.tinyurl.com/GoverningMPAs to purchase from Routledge at this discount and read reviews, including more recent reviews in Nature and the International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law.
Another analysis of despair by a fisheries scientist (Kenchington T, in press*) questioning whether we should have MPAs: fishing removes top predators which are migratory, therefore fishing still impacts MPAs through fish migrations and trophic cascade effects, therefore we need to choose between pristine MPAs & seafood production! Maybe address wider ecosystem impacts of fishing, e.g. through increased selectivity, maximum size limits? Also, MPAs can still achieve a lot if not pristine and not large enough to match the wide range of top-predators?
An interesting paper (Fletcher et al., in press) which argues that neoliberal faith in REDD+ schemes for forest conservation, on the basis that they represent market-based initiatives, is misplaced, as it is not feasible for REDD+ payments to fully offset the short-term economic benefits of natural resource extraction that are foregone. There is increasing focus on extending REDD+ out to sea as Blue Carbon schemes for mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrass, for which MPAs are often vehicles.
The European Environment Agency provides independent scientific assessments and advice to the European Commission and European Parliament. It's recent European Environment — State and Outlook 2015 (SOER 2015) report highlights some worrying issues and trends, particularly for the marine environment (see briefing), e.g.
The UK Government's budget statement rarely gives cheer to marine conservationists, but this year was different, as buried in p.97 of the red book were the words:
"2.259 Marine Protected Area (MPA) at Pitcairn – The government intends to proceed with designation of a MPA around Pitcairn. This will be dependent upon reaching agreement with NGOs on satellite monitoring and with authorities in relevant ports to prevent landing of illegal catch, as well as on identifying a practical naval method of enforcing the MPA at a cost that can be accommodated within existing departmental expenditure limits"
In relation to the Nature paper "Predicting climate-driven regime shifts versus rebound potential in coral reefs"
The finding from this paper that “Reefs within no-take marine reserves were no more likely to recover than reefs in fished areas” could be related to tendency for marine reserves in Seychelles to be designated in shallower areas that are under pressure from fishing, nutrient loading, etc, rather than in deeper, more remote residual areas with lower water temperatures that are not under pressure? The real worry with this paper is that readers will go away with the take-home message that marine reserves do not promote resilience/recovery, when this finding is more an artifact of the criteria for siting marine reserve designations in the Seychelles? If it is accepted that structural complexity, density of juvenile corals and herbivorous fishes, and low nutrient loads are attributes that promote resilience/recovery, surely marine reserves have the potential to promote such attributes and thereby recovery from coral bleaching. The lack of impact of marine reserves in this study could be more to do with location of marine reserves in more used areas and their lack of effectiveness in reducing impacts of such uses, rather than marine reserves not having the potential to promote resilience/recovery, but my worry is that such caveats will not be considered in the message that people may hear, especially when findings are transferred from the Seychelles to the Great Barrier Reef...
In relation to the recent news item on the Hidden side effects of MPAs? based on the paper Effects of population density and body size on disease ecology of the European lobster in a temperate marine conservation zone.
Density dependence is a well recognised central tenet of population ecology, i.e. as the density of a population is restored back to unexploited levels, a number of 'natural' trends will increase, such as increased prevalence of disease amongst more crowded populations and older 'senile' individuals (as natural age structure is restored), along with increased competition for space, sexual partners, food, etc., leading to increased fighting related injuries. Per capita production will also decrease due to competition for food, cannibalism, etc. This is naturally what happens when you stop thinning a population through harvesting. It certainly is not hidden or unexpected, nor is it a threat to a successful marine conservation story. It is simply what should be expected to happen when a population is restored back to natural levels.