California's move to build a network of marine protected areas is the latest in a spate of North American efforts to design coherent MPA systems. Each of these projects is juggling the challenges of coordinating both the science and management of protected marine habitats.
The Skimmer & MPA News
The state of California (USA) will redesign and streamline its fragmented system of MPAs and establish no-take reserves as an essential component of the state's marine conservation plan, according to legislation passed by the state in October.
Named the Marine Life Protection Act, the new law calls for an overhaul of California's MPA system, which had been criticized by environmentalists and state officials as "confusing" and "falling far short of its potential." The law requires an evaluation of the effectiveness of California's MPAs in protecting marine life, and calls for creation of new MPA-siting guidelines.
It also suggests that the number of no-take reserves in California waters should be increased. Reportedly 0.2% of MPAs in California waters are currently designated as no-take reserves.
The Marine Life Protection Act represents one of the world's first regulatory attempts to network an MPA system of California's size, which features more than 100 sites.
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.
Apo Island in the central Philippines has become nearly synonymous with the promise that MPAs seem to hold for improved fisheries management. Since the declaration in 1985 of a community-run, no-take marine sanctuary on a portion of the small island's coral reef, researchers have documented increased fish abundance inside and outside of the sanctuary's boundaries.
Remarkable for its fisheries-management success, Apo is in the news again, but this time for the makeover of its management system. An example since its inception of how community-based management could effectively protect marine resources, the marine sanctuary's management is now in the process of being turned over to a board with national, as well as local, government representatives. While local citizens will still have a say in the marine sanctuary's management, federal officials will play an increasingly important role.
Can marine reserves assist in improving the management of fisheries? This concept has received significant attention lately in the pages of scientific journals and on the agendas of fishery managers. Sometimes called "no-take zones," these protected areas have displayed some evidence of contributing to increased fish abundance outside their boundaries, namely through the outflow of larvae from the reserve. Fishery managers have generally welcomed what they see as a promising tool to help rescue declining fish stocks.
But what do we know about the science of marine reserves? How applicable are the scientific findings from one species and area to the next? The still-nascent science has focused primarily on reef species in tropical waters, while reserves with long-lived temperate species are less-understood. Some MPA experts suggest that it is too early to say that the value of marine reserves in fishery management has been proven.
The involvement and education of stakeholders can play a key role in the success of MPA planning processes by building support in the community and reducing the likelihood of stakeholder opposition. At the International Workshop on the Role of MPAs and Integrated Coastal Management, held in late July preceding the Coastal Zone '99 Conference in San Diego, California, USA, more than 100 planners, managers, and academics laid out recommendations on how best to manage stakeholder involvement in the MPA planning process.
The table below provides a quick sampling of some of the suggestions provided by the assembled experts. The workshop divided participants by interest in geographic regions. Each composed a separate list of "do's" and "don'ts" in MPA planning. The table provides each tip according to the regional group that suggested it. Division into regions is not intended to suggest that tips work only in particular places.
Carol Bernthal is unique among sanctuary managers in the US National Marine Sanctuary Program. Rather than rising through the program's ranks to become superintendent of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS), Bernthal came straight from a job representing local indigenous tribes on regional resource issues. Bernthal's background provides her a good fit. Among the dozen sanctuaries in the National Marine Sanctuary Program, the OCNMS has the most interaction with indigenous peoples, with four Native American tribes living along its coastal boundary.
The working group of Tortugas 2000 -- a year-long collaborative process to create an "ecological reserve" in the Tortugas region of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) -- reached consensus in May on the recommended boundary for a zone in which all consumptive activities would be prohibited. Subsequently approved in June by the official advisory council of the Sanctuary, the recommended reserve is currently undergoing a draft supplemental environmental impact statement, due this October.
Building an ambitious national MPA program from the ground up, Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) has established six "pilot MPAs" in the past year and has plans for more soon. With an adaptive approach that emphasizes scientific research and the testing of protection strategies, DFO seeks to "learn by doing": through its pilots, it will determine whether the areas should be formally designated as MPAs and how they can best be managed, say officials.
DFO assumed responsibility for coordinating the nation's marine protected area programs in 1997 with the launch of Canada's Oceans Act, and it has moved quickly since then to set aside coastal and deepwater sites. Four pilot MPAs now exist on the West Coast (Race Rocks, Gabriola Passage, Endeavor Hot Vents, and Bowie Seamount) and two off the Maritimes on the East Coast (Basin Head and Sable Gully). Of these six, Basin Head is the newest, announced in June. DFO officials in Newfoundland, Quebec, and Canada's Arctic are expected to announce pilot MPAs in their respective areas in the coming year or two. Draft management plans for the existing pilot MPAs could be ready by early next year.