Spurred by concerns that many MPA managers are insufficiently trained to provide effective resource protection, two projects on opposite sides of the world have begun preparing practitioners to handle the challenges of planning and management. Organized in the Caribbean and the Western Indian Ocean, the capacity-building projects have combined classroom-style lecture courses with discussions, field trips, and networking opportunities. [For a description of project funders and organizers, see box at end of article.]
Often, the reasons for establishing a marine protected area are to protect a resource or ecosystem while providing various social and economic benefits, among them increased fishery catches. As more MPAs are designated around the world, the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of these areas in meeting their policy objectives becomes increasingly important.
Jackie Alder of Edith Cowan University (Australia) has suggested that there is an urgent need for useful approaches capable of measuring MPA performance. In a paper she co-authored and delivered last month at the "Economics of MPAs" conference in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), Alder stated, "An assumption underlying the growing support for MPAs is that they meet conservation goals and provide economic benefits, such as to fisheries and ecotourism. However, continued support for MPAs will be at risk if managers cannot assess whether multidisciplinary objectives are being fulfilled."
To serve this need for an evaluative technique, Alder is exploring one approach, called Rapfish. Short for "Rapid Appraisal for the Status of Fisheries," Rapfish was originally developed at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia for evaluating the sustainability of fisheries. Alder has adapted it to evaluate MPA performance, and says it holds promise as a tool for managers to score their MPAs' performance quickly and across disciplines.
The economic study of no-take marine reserves is evolving. Ten years ago, economists largely examined such reserves from the vantage of the fishing industry, and were generally skeptical of their justification. Now, armed with models that are increasingly informed by fish stock biology and concerns about uncertainty, economists are forging a new understanding of the economic and societal values involved in the practice of reserves.
Experts gathered last month in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), to discuss new trends in the study of marine-reserve economics. The conference, "Economics of Marine Protected Areas," sponsored by the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia, offered insights for MPA practitioners on how economists are viewing the field. Several of these insights could assist planners and managers in their work.
This issue marks the first anniversary of MPA News. Launched last July at the Coastal Zone '99 conference in San Diego, California, USA, the newsletter now has subscribers on six continents, in 54 countries. Your fellow readers include the leaders of national MPA programs, international NGOs, and major fishing organizations, as well as news media, academics, and other interested individuals.
On behalf of the staff and editorial board of MPA News, I want to thank you for the positive support that has allowed the newsletter to grow as it has, with little advertising on our part.
By Dan Holland, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, (US) National Marine Fisheries Service
[Editor's note: This article has been adapted by MPA News from a presentation given by Dan Holland on 7 July 2000 at the "Economics of MPAs" conference in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Holland is an economist.]
Whatever its objectives, the function of an MPA is to change (or preempt) the distribution of fishing effort in space, time, and possibly across species. The relevant question is whether the new distribution of effort will be superior to the current one and why.
Despite the international distribution of many marine ecosystems, efforts to provide international management plans for them have been slow in coming. Transboundary ecosystems have generally received piecemeal protection at most, with only rare efforts by planners to coordinate conservation efforts across political lines. Ecosystems on the high seas have received virtually no protection, save for the UN-sponsored multilateral agreement to protect Antarctic waters.
MPA News received several letters in response to the article in our May 2000 issue, "Closing 20% of the Ocean: Pro-Reserve Target is Finding Way into Policies." Some readers supported the use of percentage targets in setting aside no-take zones, while others questioned the merits. We print some of their responses below:
President Clinton's executive order places the US in a group with Australia, New Zealand, the Bahamas, and a small number of other nations, with each having stated its intent to create a "representative" national network of MPAs.
The word "representative" regularly appears in protected-areas planning, and designation of representative networks has long served as a goal in terrestrial land management. Building a network of protected areas representing a variety of ecosystems is intended to ensure protection for biodiversity.
But at what scale should planners implement such representativeness? And what does "representative" really mean? For guidance, MPA News consulted the literature and queried some experts.
In response to calls from conservationists and scientists, President Clinton has ordered US federal agencies to establish a comprehensive national network of marine protected areas throughout US marine waters. Executive Order #13158, delivered May 26, calls for expansion of the nation's MPA system to include examples of all types of US marine ecosystems.
Clinton's action represents the first official US directive to coordinate the nation's unsystematic array of MPA-related initiatives. The Department of Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) -- which oversees the US National Marine Sanctuaries, among other MPAs -- will be in charge of developing a single framework to manage the national system. The framework will be intended to support, rather than limit, agencies' independent exercise of their existing authorities.
To set the framework, NOAA will team with the Department of the Interior, which oversees National Parks and National Wildlife Refuges. Following Clinton's announcement, NOAA Administrator James Baker remarked that the order will improve the US' current fragmented MPA system. "We don't have a master plan that says, 'This is how this all fits together scientifically,'" he said. "That's what we're trying to put together here."