Amid the growing recognition of marine protected areas as a useful resource management tool, two things stand out to enable MPAs to achieve their resource management goals. Effective institutions and processes must exist to plan and support the MPAs, and qualified managers and other personnel must be available to oversee them. Without these ingredients, an MPA may well "protect" in name only.
The Skimmer & MPA News
The government of the Bahamas has announced a plan to create five no-take reserves in its waters this year -- the first step in a process that could eventually close 20% of the country's marine environment to fishing, according to scientists and NGOs in support of the plan.
Announced on 13 January, the government plan designates five sites for no-take reserve status, based on a ranking of more than 30 candidate areas. The chosen sites, paired with the Bahamas' sole existing no-take reserve, would set aside roughly 4% (800 km2) of the country's marine environment as no-take areas, according to an estimate by the Bahamas Reef Environmental Education Foundation (BREEF), an NGO that initiated the reserve-creation effort. Supporters of the plan, including the science team charged with recommending sites, have encouraged the government to enlarge the nascent network in coming years to comprise one-fifth of Bahamian waters.
The government, represented by the Bahamian Department of Fisheries, has so far set no boundaries for the five reserves, pending consultations with local communities. Details, too, on the reserves' assessment and management of resources have yet to be worked out, though officials expect to rely on local communities to enforce the reserves' fishing ban.
In the last issue of MPA News (December/January), we initiated a discussion on the topic of MPA nomenclature. We reprinted the IUCN's and national definitions for "marine protected area", and provided a list of terms that had previously appeared in the newsletter to describe MPAs. "Ecological reserve", "highly protected zone", and "fish replenishment area" were some of the examples. At the end of the article, we solicited feedback on the topic from readers.
Below is one of the responses we received. We thank our contributors and welcome further responses by e-mail at mpanews [at] u.washington.edu. We look forward to printing more submissions in future issues. (Opinions expressed in the following letter are those of the author, and not necessarily of MPA News.)
An advisory council to the Australian state of Victoria has released a draft recommendation that the state create a system of "highly protected" marine areas (i.e., no-take reserves) to protect fish breeding areas and other key habitats. The draft recommendation, if followed, would increase Victoria's total no-take area from 0.05% of the state's waters to over 6%.
The Environment Conservation Council (ECC) of Victoria offered the recommendation in a draft report, which is now open for public comment. The ECC advises the Victorian government on the use of public lands, with the goal of balancing the competing needs of resource users and the environment.
Specifically, the ECC's draft report names sites suitable for the creation of 12 "Marine National Parks", 11 "Marine Sanctuaries", and 15 smaller "Marine Special Management Areas". [For definitions of each of these terms, please refer to the box at the end of this article.] The Marine National Parks and Marine Sanctuaries would be no-take reserves, and, as recommended by the ECC, would cover 630 km2 of Victoria's marine environment.
Marine protected areas are designated mostly for the purpose of protecting coastal and marine resources from human-induced impacts. Nonetheless, natural events can cause just as great, or greater, disturbances to an MPA ecosystem in a day or week than most human activities can. The worldís coasts are subject to a wide variety of severe natural hazards -- hurricanes, cyclones, tsunamis -- and MPAs are not immune from their impact. Natural climate variability, too, can cause significant shifts in species distribution, with die-outs of coral and other organisms.
These natural phenomena are inarguably a part of the ecosystems that MPAs are designed to protect, yet they can abruptly alter those very ecosystems and create real challenges for managers.
In light of the recent impact of Hurricane Lenny on the Soufrière Marine Management Area on St. Lucia (see next article), MPA News surveyed several experts for their thoughts on the role of natural hazard events and climate variability in MPAs. We also asked how managers could prepare for them.
Storm waves of 30 feet (9 meters) in height destroyed as much as 80% of the coral cover in some areas of the Soufrière Marine Management Area (SMMA) off the Caribbean island of St. Lucia on November 17. The SMMA, profiled in a 1997 Coral Reefs (16:150) article for one of its reservesí remarkable enhancement of fish biomass, has now lost much of its marine life, according to early damage assessments.
SMMA Manager Kai Wulf said his staff has conducted daily dive assessments since the storm waves, which had been triggered by Hurricane Lenny but were not accompanied by abnormal wind or rain. Divers have attempted to repair coral damage where possible, including by re-attaching pieces.
Representatives from Canada, Mexico, and the US met in November to discuss plans for a project to improve information exchange and build conservation capacity among marine protected areas in the three countries. Called the North American MPA Network, the project is intended to link these nationsí MPAs electronically via the World-Wide Web (WWW) and develop cross-cutting conservation initiatives among MPA sites.
The North American MPA Network will allow MPAs to benefit from coordinated conservation efforts, sharing of lessons learned, and increased access to information on emerging threats, novel management strategies, and funding or outreach activities.
What's in a name? Perhaps more than you bargained for, if you're in the field of MPAs. With practitioners seeming each month to cook up new terms for particular types of marine protected areas, staying up-to-date on the ever-expanding MPA dictionary has become somewhat challenging. Even at MPA News we sometimes can't remember the difference between a marine reserve, marine life reserve, and ecological reserve (or are they all the same...?).
To some extent, political prudence has driven the flourishing of terms describing MPAs. Several MPA experts, for example, have created new terms for "no-take zone" in an effort to put the idea of fish stock recovery in a more positive light for stakeholders, who are often fishermen. Rather than use a term with a potentially negative connotation like "no-take zone", the manager might use a term like "fish replenishment area", which focuses on the idea of rebuilding fish stocks instead of decreasing short-term harvests.
However, some critics have suggested that the growing thicket of terminology may be counterproductive to resource protection. Without a common understanding -- and, ideally, a legal basis -- for what these terms mean, they may end up meaning nothing, or everything. A marine protected area, sanctuary, or park established with no formal definition of these terms could in reality have no protection.
The use of consensus-based decision-making to manage MPAs has grown in popularity over the last several years. With the goal of achieving increased "buy-in" from community stakeholders, MPA planners and managers are increasingly sharing some of their traditional decision-making powers and responsibilities with the community at large.
However, consensus processes are still a relatively new tool in MPA management. As with any new tool, the challenge now facing managers is to improve the tools' effectiveness, and to recognize when it is most useful. Experts on consensus-based decision-making caution that such processes may not always be appropriate for MPA management, and that planners and managers need to recognize when it is best to use them.
MPA managers or planners pursuing a consensus process with stakeholders may benefit from following the advice of expert mediators who conducted a workshop at the Coastal Zone '99 Conference in San Diego, California, USA, attended by MPA News:
Follow through: Be sure that you are clear with stakeholders on what you intend to do once agreement is reached. Are you prepared to follow the consensus decision? If not, you risk alienating stakeholders.
Group size: Keep the size of the consensus group reasonable. A group of 12-20 negotiators is manageable; more than 20 may be unwieldy.
Voting: Absence of a negotiator from a decision-making meeting can hinder the voting process. In order to thwart the use of absence as a stalling tactic, make an absence equivalent to a non-dissenting vote. This virtually guarantees that all negotiators or their representatives show up.