Last month, MPA News examined the scientific understanding of climate change in the marine environment, and what global ocean warming could entail for the planning and management of MPAs. Following publication, we spoke with three more scientists, who lent further insight to the issues involved.
Approximately half of the Earth's surface consists of the high seas: open-ocean and deep-sea ecosystems beyond the 200-nautical-mile marine jurisdiction of any coastal state. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), nations hold a duty to protect the marine environment and to conserve the living resources of the high seas.
But the high seas are also open to all nations, and subject to freedoms of fishing and navigation. For such activities to be limited, multilateral agreements are necessary. Such agreements are binding upon their signatory nations, but not upon others.
While there are several multilateral environmental and conservation agreements dealing with the high seas, few establish MPAs as such. Last year, MPA News (2:1) reported on various activities by scientists and governments to support the designation of MPAs in international waters. New information is now available.
As MPAs are designated around the world, keeping track of their locations and what they're protecting becomes increasingly necessary. In order for resource managers to analyze the breadth or effectiveness of a collection of MPAs, they need to know what is already in place.
This is easier said than done. In regions where MPAs have been designated under a variety of regulatory regimes, tracking down all of them can be a painstaking process. Even defining what is meant by "marine protected area" -- and, therefore, what will be included in the inventory -- can be tricky. This month, MPA News examines efforts by two countries to create national MPA inventories, and describes how they are facing the challenges involved.
By Mat Vanderklift and Trevor Ward, University of Western Australia
Ecological information is an important basis for the selection of marine protected areas. However, when evaluating areas, planners are often faced with limited and uncertain ecological information on which to base their decisions. They usually do not have good information about the distribution patterns of species, habitats, and ecosystems over extensive areas. Even less is known about the processes that maintain biological diversity (such as those that maintain fish or invertebrate recruitment to an area) and the extent of ecological interconnectedness of different areas.
Arbitrary declaration of areas for MPAs on the basis of poor ecological knowledge leads to a high risk that objectives will not be met. If MPAs are to be more than just paper exercises to appease lobby groups with politically acceptable solutions, appropriate ecological data from a carefully designed process of sampling and analysis are required. MPAs identified and selected using only superficial ecological knowledge will provide a false sense of security, and may disguise continuing decay of marine biological diversity both within and around designated MPAs.
The government of the Australian state of Victoria has put on hold its plan to establish a representative marine parks system for the state, due to arguments with the opposition over how to compensate fishers for reduced catches.
The ruling Labor government favors providing roughly AU $1 million in "transitional assistance" to fishers, but wants to prevent fishers from seeking additional compensation through the Supreme Court. The opposition Liberal party objects to compensation limits on this issue. Labor has withdrawn the bill from parliamentary consideration, pending negotiations with the opposition.
"Unlimited compensation through the courts would expose taxpayers to large compensation claims, which would not be in the government's interest," said a spokesperson for the Victorian environment minister. "The Victorian government has a policy commitment to the creation of marine national parks, and is presently considering options for the bill's reintroduction."
Earth's climate is continually varying on a wide range of time scales, from seasons to the lifetime of the planet. Most of this variability is natural, such as the periodic rapid warming trend in the Pacific Ocean known as El Niño. Climate change can also be induced by humans, however, through activities causing the emission of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.
Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities. Among climate scientists, there is general agreement that this build-up is likely the main cause of a rise in surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures in recent decades. The average ocean temperature, from sea surface down to 10,000 feet (3050 meters), has risen by 0.05 degrees C since the 1950s. Researchers have only just begun to determine the effects of such warming on marine ecosystems. This month, MPA News examines the scientific understanding of climate change in the marine environment, and what global ocean warming could entail for the planning and management of MPAs.
In last month's MPA News, we surveyed scientists for their opinion on what recent research had done the most to improve general understanding of the science of MPAs. We asked them a single question: What has been the most noteworthy contribution to the science of marine protected areas in the past 3 years, and why?
MPA News printed three responses last month, and is printing two more below:
On June 8, the federal cabinet of the Canadian government approved a plan to designate the Endeavour Hydrothermal Vents as an official marine protected area under Canada's Oceans Act. The highly biodiverse area has been of great interest to scientists since its discovery in the 1980s, and its MPA status will serve mainly to ensure that its ecosystem remains relatively undisturbed for scientific study. This represents one of the first efforts in the world to establish an MPA specifically for the protection of hydrothermal vents.
The Endeavour vents lie at a depth of 2,250 meters, 250 km southwest of Vancouver Island on Canada's Pacific coast. The protected area, consisting of four known vent fields, will cover roughly 93 sq. km and stretch from the sea floor up to sea level.
The 518-sq. km Tortugas Ecological Reserve, at the western end of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (US), will take full effect on July 1, 2001. Located in two parts (Tortugas North and Tortugas South), the coral-rich reserve will be off-limits to all fishing. Diving will be prohibited in Tortugas South. According to sanctuary officials, the reserve will be the nation's largest permanent no-take marine reserve.
The process to create the ecological reserve involved a wide array of stakeholders, including several federal agencies, state government, divers, fishers, and scientists (MPA News 1:1). The US Department of the Interior -- which oversees nearby Dry Tortugas National Park and which participated in the reserve-planning process -- is still considering creating a no-take "research natural area" of its own that would abut Tortugas North.
Many marine protected areas exist on maps and in legislation but offer little real protection in the water. Often referred to as "paper parks", these sites represent a failure of efforts to protect resources and ecosystems. They are surprisingly common. Estimates of the percentage of some countries' MPAs that exist primarily on paper range as high as 80-90%.
Reasons abound for this ineffectiveness, and often center around shortages of funding, lack of community support, and other factors. Although these conditions can be persistent, practitioners around the world are working to overcome them. This month, MPA News examines some of the causes of paper parks and how people and organizations are working to turn them into effective MPAs.