MPA Perspective: MPAs Improve General Management, While Marine Reserves Ensure Conservation

MPA News

Editor's note: Bill Ballantine, author of the following perspective piece, is a marine biologist and senior lecturer at the Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland. Ballantine has advocated the concept of no-take marine reserves since the 1960s, and has been instrumental in the designation of several reserves in New Zealand waters. He was awarded a Goldman Prize in 1996 for his grassroots efforts in support of marine reserves.

This perspective piece reflects to some extent the discussion of MPA definitions that has appeared recently in this newsletter (MPA News 3:7 and 3:8).

By Bill Ballantine

The June "MPA Perspective" by Tundi Agardy (MPA News 3:11) is a carefully-argued and clearly sincere attempt to warn us about the problems that might arise if we set dangerous targets and adopt inflexible stances. Fortunately a little more attention to the basic assumptions shows that there is really no problem at all, other than that produced by confusing different methods and aims.

Dr. Agardy is absolutely correct when she states that MPAs cannot have a single definition or a single model; that MPAs can have a wide range of objectives and benefits; that they must be site-specific and hence flexible. There is only one fault in her argument, if it is a fault. She is not distinguishing between MPAs and marine reserves. Her understanding of the nature and purpose of MPAs is quite acceptable to reasonable people. But, except in timing, this equates MPAs with general marine planning and management. In her terms, MPAs are pieces of the sea to which we are at present giving more and better attention. There is nothing wrong with that. The sea is very large, we are very busy and cannot do everything at once. If we wish to label as MPAs the areas where we can now arrange more and better regulations, who can complain?

Such actions will spread and improve. Our capacity and willingness to plan and manage areas of the sea will steadily increase. The need to label as MPAs the places where we make special efforts will slowly diminish as more people accept that the sea, like the land, needs careful planning and management.

MPAs are about total management and its improvement. MPAs often have conservation as one of their objectives, but are more likely to have some particular aspects of conservation as defined aims that are seen to be locally important - along with many other worthy aims. This approach is important, useful and, indeed, inevitable.

But none of this alters the argument for fully-protected marine reserves. They are not concerned with general management as such. They aim to conserve (or restore) the full range of marine life and habitats in each region. This aim fits into sensible marine management, but it will not wait for any particular level of such management. Fully-protected reserves are needed now, and targets are entirely appropriate. How much general management is needed at present in any particular area is always arguable, and the answer will keep changing. But we must keep our options open and this means maintaining the basic components - especially the living components. This should not wait for problems to occur, and it should not list the species or threats. It must be done on principle. It is perfectly reasonable to state that we need to set up a representative and sustainable network of marine reserves as soon as possible, and "sustainable" implies a target. This is entirely compatible with the steady development of flexibly-planned MPAs with a wide range of objectives. Just as MPAs will help with many aspects of conservation, fully-protected marine reserves will help with many aspects of general marine management. We do not need to worry about the fact that these are two different aims and that the methods for producing them will also be different.

We need MPAs where everything is carefully managed and we need marine reserves where the only management is to ensure things are left as undisturbed as possible. We do not need targets and defined stances on MPAs - just continuous adoption and improvement. We urgently need marine reserves with full protection (not flexible) and minimum targets so as to produce ecologically viable reserves and a sustainable system.

The nomenclature is not important, but the separation of the ideas is crucial. If you wish to call your MPA a multi-zoned and multi-use Marine Park and the fully-protected no-take areas Sanctuary Zones within the Park, I can see no objection - provided you make sure you get enough fully-protected areas. I note with great pleasure that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has just announced its intention of substantially increasing the amount of "Green Zones", or no-take areas, in the Park. The present amount is 4.5% (MPA News 3:7).

In many countries it is argued that no-take marine reserves will provide benefits for fisheries, and as a biologist I think this very likely. But the details are not predictable in particular cases. So this (or any other resource management argument) should not be used as an aim for fully-protected areas. This does not matter. The conservation argument for marine reserves is predictable and undeniable; the fisheries and other socioeconomic benefits will be bonuses.

For more information: W.J. (Bill) Ballantine, Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, Box 349, Warkworth, New Zealand. Tel: +64 9 422 6111; E-mail: b.ballantine [at] auckland.ac.nz; Web: www.marine-reserves.org.nz.