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Last month, a tanker vessel carrying a cargo of 240,000 gallons (605,000 liters) of fuel ran aground off San Cristobal Island in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. After two days, the tanker Jessica began to leak, and fuel continued to spill from her for nearly a week. All told, the Jessica released two-thirds of her cargo directly into the waters of the archipelago -- the Galapagos Marine Reserve.

Galapagos resource managers faced a potential ecological nightmare. But through a combination of manpower, technology, and luck, they appear to have kept the spill from becoming the disaster it could have been. This month, MPA News examines how the Galapagos management team responded to the Jessica spill, and what other MPA managers can learn from their experience.

MPA News

The discovery of three rare coelacanths in a South African marine protected area has led the national government to place emergency restrictions on access to the MPA. Officials are now examining how the fishes' presence could be harnessed to increase tourism and research in the area.

On 27 November, recreational scuba divers encountered and videotaped the coelacanths at a depth of 107 meters (351 feet) in the St. Lucia Marine Protected Area, off the east coast of South Africa. This is the shallowest site in the world at which these ancient fish have been found. South Africa is just the third country (after Comoros and Indonesia) in whose waters live coelacanths have been observed.

MPA News

WWF, an international conservation NGO, has published an information package designed to summarize in lay terms the scientific case for no-take marine reserves. Composed of a book, slide show, and overhead presentation, the "toolkit" is geared toward people who need to persuade others of the benefits of reserves. Its objective, as stated in the book's preface, is to speed up the process of translating recent research into the creation of more reserves.

The toolkit, titled Fully-Protected Marine Reserves, was created by Callum Roberts and Julie Hawkins of the University of York (UK). They said the idea for the toolkit evolved from their research on reserves in developing countries.

"During this work we have come across many people working to set up reserves, and have been struck by the inadequacy of the background information they have access to," said Roberts. "Most are using papers that are five or more years old. In such a fast-moving field, they are missing out on some of the most powerfully convincing case studies and theoretical advances. We wanted to put the most recent information directly in their hands."

MPA News

President Clinton has designated a vast marine protected area around the coral-laden Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) -- an MPA that now ranks as the largest protected area (either terrestrial or marine) in the US and the second largest MPA in the world. Clinton's designation of the MPA in early December followed a 90-day public consultation process -- ordered by the president last May (MPA News 1:9) -- to develop recommendations for increasing protection of the NWHI's coral ecosystems. The NWHI contain nearly 70% of US coral reefs.

The newly created Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve spans 340,000 sq. km (84 million acres). The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, widely considered to be the world's largest MPA, is only slightly larger at 350,000 sq. km.

The state of Hawaii will retain its jurisdiction out to three nautical miles from the shore of most of the NWHI islands. The new reserve will extend from the seaward boundary of Hawaii state waters to 50 nautical miles from the geographic center of the NWHI chain's islands. The reserve will be overseen by the National Marine Sanctuary Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the Department of Commerce.

MPA News

Dozens of fishers in the Galápagos Islands, angered by resource managers' refusal to expand a lobster quota, rioted in mid-November, looting and destroying buildings including the administrative building of the Galápagos National Park. Eventually halted by military personnel sent from mainland Ecuador, the clashes signaled the continuation of episodes among Galapagueño fishers to use violence to oppose conservation efforts.

Conservation scientists in the Galápagos Islands face the challenge of implementing several initiatives -- including a zoning plan to create a network of no-take areas (MPA 1:7) -- in an island society that is increasingly trying to benefit from valuable fisheries.

MPA News

The Australian state of Victoria should set aside more than 6% of its waters in a network of "highly protected" (no-take) areas to safeguard spawning sites and other important habitats, according to the final report of an advisory council to the state government. Currently, 0.05% of Victorian waters serve as no-take areas.

The report, produced by the Environment Conservation Council (ECC) of Victoria, marks the culmination of an investigative process begun in 1991 by a preceding council. The ECC advises the Victorian government on the use of public lands; its investigation came at the government's request. Its final report incorporates stakeholder responses to a draft that the ECC released in December 1999 (MPA News 1:5).

MPA News

President Clinton signed a bill on November 13 to reauthorize the US National Marine Sanctuaries Act (NMSA). The reauthorized NMSA entails some changes in the law, including a new requirement that the US' existing national marine sanctuaries be deemed to have "sufficient resources" to implement their management plans before any new sanctuaries are designated. The reauthorized law also allows the US President to designate any coral reef in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) as a "coral reef reserve" to be managed by the US Secretary of Commerce.

This is the second time this year the NWHI coral reef ecosystem has been in the nation's news. In late May, President Clinton initiated a 90-day review process with state and regional stakeholders to decide whether more protection was needed for the NWHI coral reefs, which account for 70% of US coral reefs. As of mid-November, no recommendation had yet been announced.

MPA News

Marine resource managers should increase their use of marine reserves, or no-take areas, as a supplement to conventional management tools, according to a new report from a committee of the US National Research Council (NRC). The report argues that the lack of experience with marine reserves should not stop managers from implementing them in an adaptive manner.

"Declining or poorly managed fish populations and damage to marine habitats are discouraging signs that conventional ocean-management practices are insufficient," said NRC committee chair Ed Houde in a statement following the report's release. The report provides a survey of scientific evidence in support of reserves.

The NRC is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences, a private, nonprofit institution that provides scientific and technical advice under charter from the US Congress. The committee that wrote the report consisted of academics from the fields of marine resource management and marine ecology.

MPA News

The US federal government has established a center to improve communication between MPA scientists and managers.  Called the Center for Marine Protected Area Science, the institution is designed to serve as a hub for initiating, supporting, and coordinating MPA science and policy analysis in the US.

Located in Santa Cruz, California, the center is scheduled to be fully operational by early 2001.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for managing it.

MPA News

For a marine protected area to be able to meet its goals, resource users must comply with its regulations. Achieving such compliance from users can be a constant challenge for MPA practitioners. Managers with narrow budgets generally must rely on public-education techniques to build community support for the MPA. Larger budgets allow for greater surveillance and policing.

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