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The quality of water in a marine protected area plays a major role in the health of that site's underwater ecosystems. MPAs near urban centers or agricultural lands can suffer from runoff of wastes, fertilizers, and other materials that degrade or otherwise alter natural systems. Floating garbage can accumulate in protected areas. Oil from drilling and transport carries the chronic problem of leakage and the threat of spills.

While the global MPA discussion often focuses on extractive activities and their management, threats to water quality can pose just as great a challenge for MPA practitioners. This month, MPA News examines the water quality-related challenges faced by four MPAs around the world, and how practitioners are handling them.

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Note from the editor: Peter Jones, author of the perspective piece below, is a lecturer in coastal and estuarine management at the University College London (UCL), UK.  In recent conservation agency funded research, he and colleagues evaluated the effectiveness of participatory planning processes for marine protected areas in the UK.  Lessons drawn from these processes may be of general interest to MPA practitioners elsewhere, and reflect the importance of building trust and confidence among participating groups.

Jones adapted the piece below from a paper he co-wrote with Jacquie Burgess and Darren Bhattachary of the Environment and Society Research Unit, UCL ("An Evaluation of Approaches for Promoting Relevant Authority and Stakeholder Participation in European Marine Sites in the UK: Final Report to the UK Marine SACs Project", September 2001.  E-mail p.j.jones [at] for a summary of the report).

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Dear Reader:

An article in the December 2001/January 2002 issue of MPA News -- "Results from the Reader Challenge: Which MPA is the Oldest?" -- sparked responses (including those below) from readers who questioned the definition the newsletter used for "marine protected area". They felt the definition was too broad to be useful.

The definition used for the challenge was that of the IUCN (World Conservation Union), which describes a marine protected area as "an area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect all or part of the enclosed environment." (IUCN, 1992) Based on this definition, MPA News named the Royal National Park, designated in 1879 in New South Wales, Australia, as the oldest existing MPA. The predominantly terrestrial park features some intertidal terrain, from which the taking of mollusks is prohibited.

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Correction Last month's issue (MPA News 3:6) incorrectly reported the date by which a draft operations plan for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve would be available for public comment. The draft operations plan is expected to be available in February 2002. Also in February, the US National Marine Sanctuary Program is expected to begin a scoping process to solicit public input on designating the reserve as a national marine sanctuary.

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One of the most difficult scientific and political questions in MPA planning is that of whether no-take marine reserves can serve to increase fish catches in surrounding fished areas. This effect -- achieved when larval or adult fish exit a reserve -- often becomes a central issue both for reserve planners and for stakeholders affected by pending closures, particularly fishermen. When future "spillover" of fish out of a reserve is assumed, support for a reserve can be high among fishermen. But with few real-life demonstrations of the spillover effect existing in the scientific literature, how sure can planners and stakeholders be that it will happen?

The authors of a paper published in Science magazine on November 30 say that two sites they have studied show the spillover effect is real, and that reserves can play a key role in supporting fisheries. Lead author Callum Roberts of the University of York (UK) hopes the findings "will help remove a major logjam in the debate." (Co-authors on the paper included Fiona Gell and Julie Hawkins, both of the University of York; Jim Bohnsack of the US National Marine Fisheries Service; and Renata Goodridge of the University of the West Indies [Barbados].)

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By Mark Tupper, University of Guam

Many scientists agree that tropical fisheries in developing island nations, such as St. Lucia, stand to gain the most from no-take marine reserves.  Many of these island fisheries are seriously overexploited and have little or no management of their reef fish stocks. In such cases, where no-take marine reserves are established they serve as the primary (in some cases sole) controls of catch and effort.  It seems obvious that any management regime will produce increased yields over no management at all, and for developing tropical nations with several hundred or more species of reef fish, no-take marine reserves might be much easier to enforce than a complex set of catch limits, size limits, and gear restrictions.  However, the St. Lucia example is specific to coral reef fisheries and does not prove the global utility of no-take marine reserves to fisheries.

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In the past quarter-century, MPAs have experienced a surge in popularity among resource managers looking for tools to help protect underwater habitats and other resources. Of the thousands of MPAs now in existence worldwide, the large majority of them have been designated since the mid-1970s.

But the modern history of marine protected areas began long before that. To get a sense of when, and where, the modern MPA movement began, one must pinpoint when the first MPA was designated. This is easier said than done. With the definition of "marine protected area" often differing from user to user, several MPAs around the world have been named, in print or on the web, as being "the first".

Wading into this issue, MPA News challenged readers in September to name the oldest existing marine protected area in the world, in hopes that we might help to settle this matter. Our guidelines were fairly simple: nominated MPAs must exist currently, and must fit the IUCN definition of marine protected area -- "an area of intertidal or subtidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment." (IUCN 1992)

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Mozambique protects Bazaruto coral reefs

The government of Mozambique on November 28 extended the boundaries of what had been solely a terrestrial park on the islands of the Bazaruto Archipelago to include 1,400 km2 of the surrounding waters. The newly named Bazaruto Archipelago National Park features coral reefs and seagrass beds that support a diverse fishery, a strong dive industry, and the largest viable dugong population on the East African coast. The pending management plan for the expanded park includes a zoning system that will establish some no-take areas, particularly in coral communities; elsewhere in the park, seine and hand-line fisheries by island residents will still be allowed.