A false sense of protection: recreational uses and illegal behaviour in a Mediterranean Marine Protected Area and implications for management
Over the last 35 years, at both European and Italian level, great efforts have been made to increase the number of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), as they are considered an effective tool for protecting oceans and biodiversity. In recent years, MPAs have become more than simply a tool to improve marine conservation. In fact, their management agencies are actively involved in the sustainable development of nearby communities through the promotion of recreational activities (boating, snorkelling, diving). Even if the recreational uses of the marine environment are generally considered benign, they can potentially be highly detrimental for species and their habitats. As a result, these activities should be controlled through the spatial zoning and the regulations of the MPAs. Thus, the achievement of the conservation goals of the MPAs depends primarily on compliance with the regulations of recreational uses inside their boundaries. The objective of this study was to estimate boating usage and the level of compliance inside the Capo Gallo and Isola delle Femmine (Italy) MPA. The spatial and temporal trend of boating and the behaviours of boaters were measured through direct observation over a period of two summer months. The study highlighted a weakness in the effectiveness of this MPA, linked to a social component and compliance with the regulation. Solutions for effective management plans are outlined thanks to an understanding of the limitations and potential of existing MPA policies.