Adequate representation of species and habitats is a critical aspect of an effective protected area (PA) network. Here, we evaluate the representation of focal wildlife species and forest types within the existing 11,241-km2 PA network of the Tanintharyi Region in southern Myanmar, a frontier forest landscape and global biodiversity hotspot, and use spatial prioritisation tools to identify additional priority areas for conservation outside the existing network that contribute towards meeting a 30% representation target. Our study showed that the current configuration of the existing PA network underrepresented 32 of 60 threatened wildlife species and 6 of 8 forest types, with mangroves being the least represented. Spatial prioritisation revealed that by protecting an additional 4032 km2 (8.4% of Tanintharyi's land area), 31% of which were adjacent to the existing PA network, the target representation for all wildlife species and forest types can be achieved. Enhancing the effectiveness of the existing network entails modest expansion by establishing additional conservation areas through various area-based conservation strategies, specifically targeting mangrove forests. Large oil palm agribusiness concessions, however, overlapped with almost 12% of priority conservation areas (consisting of additional areas and parts of the existing PA network), thereby competing with conservation interests. Expanding the area of representation will only succeed if the species and their habitats are adequately protected. Efforts therefore must prioritise the involvement and leadership of local communities and reflect local realities in negotiations among stakeholders.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are usually considered to have positive effects on the recovery of over-exploited populations. However, resolving the extent to which MPAs function according to their conservation goals requires that essential demographic information such as individual survival and population size are quantified. To this end, we analyzed a 16-year replicated mark-recapture study on European lobster (Homarus gammarus, n = 8793) conducted at several protected and unprotected sites in southern Norway, quantifying the impact of MPAs on local population dynamics by means of a “before-after control-impact” study approach (BACI). Lobster survival and abundance were estimated by applying multi-state and robust design models to the mark-recapture data. These models revealed underlying positive responses to protection. Annual survival rates and population abundances reached higher values in the MPAs, compared to the unprotected sites (abundance range: MPAs = 96–1172, control areas = 92–747). In general, female survival was higher than male survival (range of survival: male = 0.13–0.75, female = 0.37–0.85), while larger males benefited more from protection compared to smaller males (range of increase in survival after protection: big = 100–125%, small = 55–101%). We also detected regional differences in demographic responses to protection, as not all MPAs showed the same changes in abundance over time. Our results show that MPAs can reach conservation goals by increasing the local survival and abundance of lobster, but they also highlight demographic differences between sexes and geographic areas that are worth considering for the management and design of both current and future MPAs.
In the face of increasing anthropogenic threats, coastal nations need to reach common ground for effective marine conservation. Understanding species' connectivity can reveal how nations share resources, demonstrating the need for cooperative protection efforts. Unfortunately, connectivity information is rarely integrated into the design of marine protected areas (MPAs). This is exemplified in the Red Sea where biodiversity is only nominally protected by a non-cohesive network of small-sized MPAs, most of which are barely implemented. Here, we showcase the potential of using connectivity patterns of flagship species to consolidate conservation efforts in the Red Sea. We argue that a large-scale MPA (LSMPA) would more effectively preserve Red Sea species' multinational migration routes. A connectivity-informed LSMPA approach provides thus one avenue to unite coastal nations toward acting for the common good of conservation and reverse the global decline in marine biodiversity.
Sustainable tourism involves increasingly attracting visitors while preserving the natural capital of a destination for future generations. To foster tourism while protecting sensitive environments, coastal managers, tourism operators, and other decision-makers benefit from information about where tourists go and which aspects of the natural and built environment draw them to particular locations. Yet this information is often lacking at management-relevant scales and in remote places. We tested and applied methods using social media as data on tourism in The Bahamas. We found that visitation, as measured by numbers of geolocated photographs, is well correlated with counts of visitors from entrance surveys for islands and parks. Using this relationship, we predicted nearly 4 K visitor-days to the network of Bahamian marine protected areas annually, with visitation varying more than 20-fold between the most and least visited parks. Next, to understand spatial patterns of tourism for sustainable development, we combined social media-based data with entrance surveys for Andros, the largest island in The Bahamas. We estimated that tourists spend 125 K visitor-nights and more than US$45 M in the most highly visited district, five times that of the least visited district. We also found that tourists prefer accessible, natural landscapes—such as reefs near lodges—that can be reached by air, roads, and ferries. The results of our study are being used to inform development and conservation decisions, such as where to invest in infrastructure for visitor access and accommodation, siting new marine protected areas, and management of established protected areas. Our work provides an important example of how to leverage social media as a source of data to inform strategies that encourage tourism, while conserving the environments that draw visitors to a destination in the first place.
Thailand is a biodiversity hotspot and home to over 1000 bird species, 15,000 plant species, and five of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global 200 Ecoregions of ecological significance. To preserve their unique ecosystems, the Thai government has established and maintained protected areas (PA) which in 2020, are estimated to cover 19% of Thailand’s land area. The success of these areas in preserving biodiversity to date is somewhat ambiguous. Using gap analyses, we evaluated the extent and adequacy of coverage provided by these PAs for the preservation of these unique ecoregions, to threatened amphibian, bird, and mammal species richness hotspots and at a range of altitudes within Thailand.
Regionally, the Indochina dry forests, Northern Khorat Plateau moist deciduous forests and Malaysian Peninsula rainforests are all under-represented. Though opportunities exist for their protection through marine designation, mangrove and wetland ecosystems are also seriously under-represented in the current spatial layout and network connectivity of Thailand’s protected area system. Highland areas (>750 m elevation) are well-protected, in contrast to the lower altitude areas where human and agricultural pressures are higher. Hotspots of threatened birds located in the northern and southern regions of Thailand, as well as most of the central threatened mammal hotspot, are inadequately covered (<10%). The current PAs could be expanded with a focus on these key areas, or further PAs created to address these gaps in provision. The Thai PA network is also highly fragmented and, in addition to increasing the area covered, contiguity and connectivity of the network should be considered. With human population expansion in the central lowland area particularly, there will be challenges and trade-offs to be negotiated along with enforcement within existing areas. We hope, though, that the results of this study can aid policymakers in improving Thai conservation effectiveness.
Monitoring of marine protected areas (MPAs) is critical for marine ecosystem management, yet current protocols rely on SCUBA-based visual surveys that are costly and time consuming, limiting their scope and effectiveness. Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding is a promising alternative for marine ecosystem monitoring, but more direct comparisons to visual surveys are needed to understand the strengths and limitations of each approach. This study compares fish communities inside and outside the Scorpion State Marine Reserve off Santa Cruz Island, CA using eDNA metabarcoding and underwater visual census surveys. Results from eDNA captured 76% (19/25) of fish species and 95% (19/20) of fish genera observed during pairwise underwater visual census. Species missed by eDNA were due to the inability of MiFish 12S barcodes to differentiate species of rockfishes (Sebastes, n = 4) or low site occupancy rates of crevice-dwelling Lythrypnus gobies. However, eDNA detected an additional 23 fish species not recorded in paired visual surveys, but previously reported from prior visual surveys, highlighting the sensitivity of eDNA. Significant variation in eDNA signatures by location (50 m) and site (~1000 m) demonstrates the sensitivity of eDNA to address key questions such as community composition inside and outside MPAs. Results demonstrate the utility of eDNA metabarcoding for monitoring marine ecosystems, providing an important complementary tool to visual methods.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) help replenish fish assemblages, though different trophic levels may show diverse recovery patterns. Long-term protection is required to achieve total recovery but poaching events may prevent the achievement of full carrying capacity. Here, we have analysed the effect of long-term protection on the entire reef fish community and the different trophic levels in the Cabo de Palos-Islas Hormigas MPA (SE Spain; SW Mediterranean Sea) in order to assess their recovery patterns after 23 years of protection. We compared the values for carrying capacity obtained with the maximum values achieved at regional scale, and we assessed the effect of a reduction in the surveillance over a few years, during which poaching events increased, on the recovery patterns. We found that, overall, biomass of fishes increased with time while density diminished. In particular, piscivorous and macro-invertivore fish increased while the other trophic groups remained constant or declined, suggesting top-down processes. For the entire study period, those trophic groups were approaching carrying capacity; however, when accounting only for the period in which enforcement was high and constant, they grew exponentially, indicating that full carrying capacity may have not been achieved yet. When compared to other Mediterranean MPAs, the Cabo de Palos-Islas Hormigas MPA showed values for biomass that were disproportionately higher, suggesting that local factors, such as habitat structure and associated oceanographic processes, may be responsible for the dynamics found. Our results help to understand the potential trajectories of fish assemblages over a consolidated MPA and highlight empirically how the reduction of surveillance in a period may change the recovery patterns.
Protecting marine biodiversity and ensuring sustainable use through a seascape approach is becoming increasingly widespread in response to the ecological, social and institutional challenges of scaling ocean management. A seascape approach means clustering spatial management measures (marine protected areas) based around the principles of ecological connectivity, and developing or enhancing collaborative governance networks of relevant stakeholders (managers, community groups, non-governmental organizations) based around the principles of social connectivity. As with other large-scale approaches to marine management, there is minimal evidence of long-term impact in seascapes. This study uses a theory-based, participatory impact evaluation to assess perceived changes attributed to the Atlántida seascape in Honduras (initiated in 2015), encompassing three well-established marine protected areas and the non-legally managed waters between them. Using an adapted most significant change method, 15 interviews with a representative subset of seascape stakeholders yielded 165 stories of change, the majority (88%) of which were positive. Enhanced social capital, associated with cross-sectoral collaboration, inter-site conflict resolution and shared learning, was the most consistently expressed thematic change (32% of stories). Although most stories were expressed as activity- or output-related changes, a small proportion (18%) were causally linked to broader outcomes or impact around increased fish and flagship species abundance as well as interconnected well-being benefits for people. Although minimal (and occasionally attributed to prior initiatives that were enhanced by the seascape approach), this impact evidence tentatively links seascapes to recent related research around the effectiveness of appropriately scaled, ecosystem-based and collaboratively governed marine management that balances strict protection with sustainable use.
This paper analyses the governance of MPAs through 28 case studies in 17 countries. Limitations of the polycentric governance concept are discussed, particularly its faith in linkages as a means of resolving conflicts and its assumption that the state should only take a passive role. The concept of coevolutionary governance is described and justified, noting that this essentially builds on polycentrism’s systematic case study analysis approach, but evolves it to move beyond its limitations. Coevolutionary governance takes a synecology perspective to analyse how incentives coevolve through their functional integration, as well as how social and ecological systems can coevolve through the feedback mechanisms of human impacts and ecological services. Drawing on the wider concept of multi-level governance, coevolutionary governance is considered to provide for synergies between governance approaches, proposing that coordination can be achieved and conflicts addressed through reconfigured roles of the state providing steer through governance in ‘the shadow of hierarchy’. The MPAG empirical framework is described and the findings of its application outlined. Drawing on these findings, some key trends within and amongst five categories of incentives are explored. These illustrate that incentives synergistically interact in a way that is analogous to synecology, providing for them to be functionally integrated as a means of combining governance approaches. As such, it is argued that these findings support the validity of the coevolutionary governance concept, as well as supporting the argument that “diversity is the key to resilience, both of species in ecosystems and incentives in governance systems”.
Managing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is about managing human behaviours, but decision-making processes have traditionally focussed on ecological aspects, treating social aspects as secondary. It is now becoming more evident that an equal focus on the ecological and social aspects is required. Without the collection of information about social aspect such as impacts and sharing this as well as ecological information with communities, MPAs are at higher risk of opposition and social acceptability problems. This paper explores the development of a wellbeing framework to understand the social aspects, including the impacts of MPAs on the wellbeing of local communities. This research investigates two case study MPAs: Cape Byron and Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Parks in New South Wales, Australia. The MPAs are multiple-use and were implemented in 2006 and 2007, respectively. The research began with a review of the literature, followed by fieldwork, including semi-structured qualitative interviews with community members. Through thematic coding of the interview transcripts in light of the literature on assessing the social impacts of MPAs, a community wellbeing framework of domains and associated attributes was developed to investigate social impacts. Our analysis shows; first, local perspectives are crucial to understanding social impacts. Second, understanding social impacts gives insight into the nature of trade-offs that occur in decision-making regarding MPAs. Third, the intangible social impacts experienced by local communities are just as significant as the tangible ones for understanding how MPAs operate. Fourth, governance impacts have been the most influential factor affecting the social acceptability of the case study parks. We argue that failure to address negative social impacts can undermine the legitimacy of MPAs. We propose that the framework will support policymakers to work towards more effective, equitable and socially sustainable MPAs by employing much-needed monitoring of human dimensions of conservation interventions at the community level to shape adaptive management.