California's move to build a network of marine protected areas is the latest in a spate of North American efforts to design coherent MPA systems. Each of these projects is juggling the challenges of coordinating both the science and management of protected marine habitats.
Below are profiles of three such efforts:
Baja to the Bering Sea
This new project aims to develop a network of MPAs along the 20,000 kilometer coastline from Mexico's Baja Peninsula to Alaska's Bering Sea. Spearheaded by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the tri-national effort is intended to provide a forum for information sharing, development of new conservation methods, and expansion of existing protected area networks (such as California's). The ultimate goal, according to Sabine Jessen of CPAWS, is to maintain and restore biodiversity along the Pacific Coast of North America.
Jessen said the project was initially inspired by the terrestrial "Yellowstone-to-Yukon" initiative in North America, which is establishing connecting corridors between the western US and northwestern Canada for the migration of protected species. "Baja to the Bering Sea" will explore the potential of applying the connecting corridors concept to the marine environment. "A larger, cooperative network will build on the strengths of existing initiatives and explore new conservation opportunities on the Pacific Coast as a whole," said Jessen. A project steering committee with representatives from Mexico, the US, and Canada is planning a founding workshop to be held in Spring 2000.
Hague Line International Peace Park
First proposed in 1994, this park would protect a suite of habitats representative of the Gulf of Maine along the eastern marine boundary of the United States and Canada (the "Hague Line" boundary). Unlike "Baja to the Bering Sea," this concept would focus on just one MPA, but would nonetheless involve the networking of US and Canadian management regimes to create and manage the park. The park, potentially 3000 km2 in size, would provide a scientific control site to study fishing impacts in the Gulf, while protecting an important source of scallop larvae for the greater ecosystem. In addition, it would provide a buffer zone along the international boundary that designates where scallopers from each nation are allowed to fish.
Again, the concept for this networking plan came from a terrestrial example: in this case, the inspiration was the "Crown of the Continent Peace Park" linking the US' Glacier National Park and Canada's Waterton Lakes National Park. Martin Willison of Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia, Canada) was one of the first to propose the idea of the Hague Line park. "In the case of the Gulf of Maine," he said, "Canada can establish a marine protected area under the Oceans Act on its side, and the US can use [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration's] marine sanctuary designation. We can always adjust our managerial regimes to fit needs -- all we need are humans who can see straight enough." The idea of the Hague Line International Peace Park has been taken up by NGOs on both sides of the border; the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans is considering the establishment of a pilot MPA on Georges Bank in the Gulf of Maine.
The Nature Conservancy's Caribbean efforts
The international programs of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), a non-governmental organization, focus on providing technical and scientific assistance to local conservation groups. In the Caribbean, TNC is working with scientists to determine the key biological sources and sinks for marine life throughout the sea, then moving to help protect these areas. John Tschirky, TNC's marine protected area specialist for the Caribbean, said that oftentimes important areas are protected on paper, but lack the funds, information, and expertise to provide real conservation. "We have no illusions that we will turn these into perfect parks in nine to ten years, but we can take them from being 'paper parks'," he said.
Tschirky listed the challenges involved in such networking, including the relative newness of the science involved, the shortage of money to do all TNC would like to do, and the lack of managerial capacity in some of the regions in which TNC works. "We're always looking for ways to leverage what we are doing at one site to influence other parks," he said. One way has been to team up with other organizations doing similar work in the region, such as the United Nations Environment Programme and the US Department of the Interior. Education is essential: TNC is working to document and disseminate lessons from everything that it does in the Caribbean (through books, workshops, and other methods), so that each site can learn from others' experiences. Along that line the organization, which established its reputation in terrestrial conservation, will hold its first-ever in-house meeting to exclusively discuss marine issues this December. TNC marine experts from around the world will gather to meet one another and share information.
For more information:
Sabine Jessen, CPAWS-BC, 502-475 Howe Street, Vancouver, BC V6C 2BH3, Canada. Tel: +1 604 685 7445; Fax: +1 604 685 6449; E-mail: sjessen [at] cpawsbc.org.
Martin Willison, School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 3J5, Canada. Tel: +1 902 494 2966; E-mail: willison [at] is.dal.ca.
John Tschirky, The Nature Conservancy, Latin America and Caribbean Division, 4245 N. Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22203-1606, USA. Tel: +1 703 841 4185; E-mail: jtschirky [at] tnc.org.