Identification of conservation gaps and redesign of island marine protected areas
Oceanic islands are structurally more vulnerable to disturbances: their small size and isolation reduces spatial options for persistence of biodiversity. The establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) is considered essential for conserving the marine environment and biodiversity. However, a number of natural and social factors influence the planning process for MPAs, with effects on the exact conservation strategy adopted. Sometimes social interests dominate and the final zoning of the MPA fails to meet the initial conservation criteria, which were recommended on the basis of scientific results. Geographic Information Systems (GIS), with their derived and specific applications, provide new opportunities for zoning and management of the marine environment. These tools facilitate analysis of large datasets and allow integration of more information into the MPA planning process. There is already a database full of geo-referenced information about marine habitat distribution, communities, endangered species and human activities, around La Palma (Canary Islands, Spain). We analyzed this information, using GIS tools and the algorithm Marxan, and presented seven alternative MPA zones in the sublittoral environment around La Palma. This is the first time that an objective and systematic process, combining knowledge about human activities as well as conservation status, has been used to establish the suitable placement of MPAs in the Canary Islands. The zoning recommended by this study differs significantly from that currently in place. We suggest there is a need to redesign La Palma’s outdated conservation strategies by redefining the size, shape and location of its MPAs.