- Regional approaches to protecting the marine environment have gathered momentum over the past 40 years. Pioneered by UNEP's Regional Seas Programme, such approaches have broadened their remit from pollution prevention to the conservation of biodiversity, promoting management tools such as networks of marine protected areas (MPAs).
- Formal intergovernmental approaches are increasingly complemented by a range of regional projects committed to ambitious targets to establish MPAs and Local Marine Managed Areas (LMMAs). These regional efforts have been inspired by political leaders, non-governmental organizations, coastal communities and committed individuals.
- Regional networks of MPA managers have drawn together professionals to share good practice and further develop management tools. They focus on partnerships and capacity building opportunities with support from international donors and implementing agencies.
- Collective ecosystem-based management delivered using a regional approach is identified as a preferred solution to environmental challenges in polar regions. Crossing boundaries and fostering regional synergies can help ensure ecologically coherent regional networks and support resilience. There is also the potential to reap tangible rewards from applying such a regional approach in many other areas.
- Regional coherence of MPA network design, compliance and enforcement policies, and information sharing is an optimal way to understand and counter commercial and industrial resource extraction forces actively working against sustainable development.
Transboundary Planning and Management
Recent international policy developments require states to conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by creating effectively managed and ecologically coherent networks of protected areas in the marine environment. In the framework of the PANACHE project, the current status of designation, management and monitoring of the network of marine protected areas (MPAs) of an important environmental, social and economic marine area: the English Channel (the Channel) was examined. Currently 224 MPAs exist belonging to 12 different designation categories and covering 17 440 km2, or approximately 20.3% of the project area in the Channel. International protection targets in the marine environment are thus met at this regional scale, although the individual contributions of the UK and France are considerably different, with French MPAs accounting for nearly 80% of the total area protected. Differences between countries are also found regarding MPA designation categories (11 in France, 6 in the UK, 1 in the Channel Islands) and management structures (with more actors involved in the UK) and approach, whereas the monitoring techniques used are similar, although more standardised in the UK. Pending challenges include greater within-country and cross-country MPA designation, monitoring and management simplicity, integration and coordination as well as the assessment of management effectiveness and ecological coherence of the Channel network of MPAs.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an important ecosystem-based management approach to help improve the sustainability of the spiny lobster fishery (Panulirus argus), but information is lacking concerning levels of lobster population connectivity among MPAs. Given their prolonged (~6 months) pelagic larval duration, population connectivity must be considered in any spatial management plan for P. argus. We used genetic techniques to uncover spatial patterns of connectivity among MPAs along the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (MBRS) of Central America. We hypothesized that connectivity would be greater and genetic differentiation diminished among lobster populations within MPAs in the southern MBRS, which is dominated by a retentive oceanographic environment, as compared to MPAs in the more advective environment further north. We found that levels of connectivity are high among spiny lobster populations residing in MPAs in Central America, although overall F ST was low (F ST = 0.00013) but significant (P = 0.037). MPAs in the northern MBRS contained significantly more individuals that were genetically determined outliers or migrants than southern MPAs (P = 0.008, R 2 = 0.61), which may have contributed to the higher levels of genetic differentiation observed in northern MPAs. Direct genetic testing of larvae and adults will be required to confirm this hypothesis. The high level of connectivity among MPAs provides additional evidence of the importance of international cooperation in the management of Caribbean lobster fisheries. However, uncertainty regarding the ecological and physical drivers of genetic differentiation in Northern MPAs implies that managers should hedge against uncertainty.