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Managers of two world-renowned marine protected areas have enlisted the enforcement assistance of an NGO that has made a name for itself in direct-action efforts against illegal whalers and driftnetters.

In recent months, the Galapagos Marine Reserve (Ecuador) and the Cocos Island National Park (Costa Rica) have each teamed up with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for help in patrolling their waters against illegal fishers. Sea Shepherd, a US-based NGO with operations around the world, is perhaps best known for its ramming and sinking of various whaling vessels in the past two decades.

In the Galapagos and Cocos Island, Sea Shepherd is providing a patrol vessel and crew to transport arresting officials in pursuit of illegal fishers. Sea Shepherd is providing its service free of charge to the MPAs; the NGO funds its efforts through public donations.

MPA News

In global discussions on the practice of MPAs, the focus is usually on how to manage marine natural resources most effectively -- namely fish stocks and habitats.  But several MPAs around the world exist for the protection of cultural, rather than natural, resources.  These MPAs, often designated around historic shipwrecks, present some unique challenges for their managers.

This month, MPA News examines these challenges and, in a feature immediately following this article, assesses what a pending United Nations agreement on protecting "underwater cultural heritage" could spell for cultural MPAs.

MPA News

At present, there is no international instrument to provide significant legal protection to underwater cultural heritage -- shipwrecks, sunken cities, underwater cave paintings, and so forth. Although some nations possess laws to provide protection in their own waters, others don't. This has led to confusion about the rights of a nation to protect its cultural heritage, whether submerged in its own waters or another nation's, or on the high seas.

This could soon change. From October 15 through November 3 of this year, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will meet to discuss, among other things, the adoption of a draft convention for the protection of underwater cultural heritage. If adopted by a two-thirds majority of UNESCO member nations, the draft convention would become international law, at least for its signatories.

MPA News

A new atlas prepared by the World Conservation Monitoring Centre of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP-WCMC) provides what it describes as the first detailed accounting of the state of coral reefs around the world. The glossy, 424-page World Atlas of Coral Reefs offers full-page maps depicting reefs and associated MPAs, and assesses the threats facing both.

The atlas divides its subject into three broad geographic realms: the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific; the wider Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia; and the Pacific. These are then subdivided into regional chapters, then smaller sections. Each section covers a range of issues, including the physical geography of each region or country and the structure and biodiversity of the reefs.

The book should be useful to practitioners of coral reef MPAs interested in comparing their sites to others around the world, in terms of biodiversity, threats, and protection efforts. "The atlas gives a flavor of the global network of protection for coral reefs, and of the gaps in this network," said lead author Mark Spalding, senior program officer for UNEP-WCMC's Marine and Coastal Programme. "There are some great stories arising from different management approaches around the world, and there may be opportunities to apply lessons learned in one country to those in another." (Spalding's co-authors were Corinna Ravilious and Edmund Green, both of UNEP-WCMC.)

MPA News

Scientists and managers from more than 20 countries gathered in July to share information on the role of science in MPA management. In a workshop held prior to the Coastal Zone '01 conference in Cleveland, Ohio (US), attendees discussed ways to improve coordination of science and management, including through the enhanced participation of local stakeholders.

The three-day international workshop -- directed by the US National Ocean Service and sponsored by several organizations -- culminated in a brainstorming session to provide advice on improving the conduct and use of MPA science. The workshop participants and their results were divided into two general groups -- scientists and managers.

MPA News has excerpted below the advice of the scientist group, which had members from eight countries on four continents. The group included both natural and social scientists. (Advice from the managers will be printed in the next issue of MPA News.)

MPA News

The past two decades have experienced a surge in the number of marine protected areas designated around the world. Some are small, some larger; some are no-take, some multiple-use. The global collection of MPAs -- consisting of thousands of sites worldwide -- has evolved to feature a broad range of designs, management regimes, and goals.

But from what did this MPA constellation evolve? How has MPA practice changed since the first marine protected area? And what do those changes mean for how practitioners should plan for the future?

To begin to answer these questions, one must first decide on when the first MPA was designated. This point is surprisingly unclear. Last month, in the coral_list online discussion group (see box at end of article), the question of when the first MPA was designated elicited answers suggesting sites across the globe, with designation dates ranging decades or more.

MPA News
  • Clarification: The correct address for the website co-managed by the US Departments of Commerce and the Interior to provide news and information on national MPA efforts is The August 2001 issue of MPA News incorrectly printed the address as Both addresses direct the visitor to the same website, but the departments refer to the site by the shorter address.

MPA News

The Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary and the California Department of Fish and Game have finalized a recommendation for the designation of a no-take marine reserve network around the Channel Islands, on the US Pacific Coast. The recommendation represents the culmination of two years of consensus-based discussions among a variety of interest groups (MPA News 2:10); it will be presented to the California Fish and Game Commission on 24 August 2001.

MPA News

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.