MEAM and MPA News

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In most areas of the world, indigenous peoples can be important stakeholders in the planning and management of marine protected areas, often offering a detailed ecological knowledge of the sea, honed over centuries. In addition, some nations grant special territorial and resource rights to indigenous peoples, empowering them with a direct say in how protected areas are planned and managed.

This month, as part one of a two-part study, MPA News offers insights from two experts -- Gonzalo Oviedo and Bob Johannes -- on issues involved in the participation of indigenous peoples in MPA practice. An MPA News interview with Oviedo and a perspective piece by Johannes appear below. In next month's newsletter, we will examine case examples of MPAs in which indigenous peoples have played a significant role.

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Editor's Note: Bruce Burrows, author of the following perspective piece, has worked as a commercial fisherman on the Pacific Coast of Canada for 20 years. Burrows now serves as fisheries outreach coodinator for the Living Oceans Society, a Canadian NGO, raising the awareness of fishermen on the subject of MPAs. In the following piece, he offers tips to NGOs and other MPA planners on why and how they should work with commercial fishermen. Some of his points echo comments made by Bob Johannes (see Johannes, this issue) in discussing the knowledge of indigenous fishermen. [Burrows's piece is based on a presentation he made at the "MPA Power Tools Conference", White Rock, British Columbia, Canada, October 19-21, 2001.]

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Many parts of the ocean remain largely unknown to scientists. The deeper the water, the more difficult and costly it is to study the ecosystems there. Sometimes it is only exploration by commercial interests that sheds much light on the deep ocean, as the petroleum and fishing sectors plumb ever-greater depths with advanced drilling and fishing gear.

Such has been the case for deepwater corals. Although naturalists have known since the 1800s that some corals live in deep, cold water, researchers are only beginning to appreciate the scale of their reef communities, and their potential ecological significance to fish and biodiversity. As the petroleum and fishing industries increasingly encounter these reef communities off the coasts of Europe and elsewhere, resource managers are starting to consider necessary protection. This month, MPA News examines the current state of knowledge on deepwater corals, and the various efforts to protect them.

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November 4-7, 2001 -- Amsterdam, The Netherlands. "6th International Conference of the Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society." Conference will exchange current knowledge and strategies for assessment of aquatic ecosystem health. Web: www.caos.nl/aehms

November 5-8, 2001 -- Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. "Oceans 2001." Conference will include sessions on marine habitat restoration, marine mammals, coral reefs, pelagics management, and other topics. Web: www.oceans2001.com

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By the Fisheries Society of the British Isles

Concern has been widely expressed about fishery and other impacts on the North Sea, where the spawning stock biomass of most commercially important marine species has been reduced to less than 10% of its unexploited size and many fishery practices may be unsustainable.  Besides being a source of mortality for both target and by-catch species, other effects of current fishing practices on stocks such as (i) alteration of the normal age structure, (ii) disruption of reproductive behavior, (iii) reduction in genetic diversity, (iv) habitat degradation and shifts in ecosystem structure, and (v) long-term economic losses are becoming progressively more apparent.

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Last month, MPA News published the advice of an international group of scientists on how to improve the conduct and use of science in MPA management. The advice came out of a July 2001 workshop on the topic held in Cleveland, Ohio (USA), involving scientists and managers from more than 20 countries. The workshop was directed by the US National Ocean Service, and immediately preceded the Coastal Zone 2001 conference.

Below, MPA News publishes an excerpt of the advice offered by managers at the workshop. Like last month's tips from scientists, the managers' input arose from a brainstorming session at the workshop's end. Managers who contributed to this advice came from 15 countries on 5 continents.

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Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill announced plans in late September to assess the conservation value of 11 marine areas in Australian waters -- the first step toward potential designation of these sites as marine protected areas. The sites include shoals, plateaus, and canyons, as well as a blue whale aggregation site.

The main purpose of the conservation assessments will be to advise the government on whether to proceed with designating each of the sites as an MPA. Hill did not specify the likelihood that each of the 11 sites targeted for assessment would eventually receive formal MPA designation.

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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.

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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.

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