Posts Tagged ‘MPAs’

The MPA Solution

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

More and more Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are being created around the world, but do they make a difference? Do they actually help depressed fisheries and their communities recover?

Sometimes yes, often no: it depends on a suite of features. So the question becomes not just how much coastline should we protect, but also how do we do it right.

Early in 2014 an extraordinary study published in Nature compared 87 MPAs from the shallow water coasts of 40 nations and showed us just how hard it is to create an effective MPA.

MPAs fail to be effective for a few reasons. The greatest problem of course is illegal harvesting, but inadequate regulations that allow harvesting also occur in far too many MPAs. And if the MPA is too small or it isn’t isolated, mobile species simply emigrate to quick capture elsewhere.

Five different features critical to the success of an MPA emerged from the study. Their acronym is NEOLI.

Coastal shallow-water MPAs included in the study. On the upper map, the 4 black spots are the sites of the most successful MPAs that are pictured below. (nature.com)

Coastal shallow-water MPAs included in the study. On the upper map, the 4 black spots are the sites of the most successful successful MPAs that are pictured below (nature.com)

– The MPA must be No-Take: no harvesting at all can occur. (N)
– Protection must be well-enforced. Otherwise illegal harvesting wrecks everything. (E)
– It must be at least 10 years old. Obviously that isn’t actually old, but this is a young business, and things take time. (O)
– It must be large, at least 100 km2. (L)
– And it must be isolated – surrounded by sand or deep water. (I)

No-Take, Enforced, Old, Large and Isolated: NEOLI.

MPas with 4-5 of the NEOLI features have dramatically greater fish biomass (nature.com)

MPas with 4-5 of the NEOLI features have dramatically greater fish biomass (nature.com)

The kicker is that an MPA must have 4 or 5 of these features, or it is ineffective, no different than adjacent unprotected fished areas. Of the 87 MPAs assessed, only 4 had all 5 features, and only 5 others had 4. So 90% had three or less.

These 9 sites, though, point the way. They had considerably more fish, larger fish, larger fish biomass, and included top predators like sharks, groupers and jacks.

Cocos Island, Costa Rica, uninhabited, tropical (underseahunter.com)

Cocos Island, Costa Rica, uninhabited, tropical (underseahunter.com)

Malpeco Island, 500 km west of Columbia uninhabited except for military site (seaseek.com)

Malpeco Island, 500 km west of Columbia uninhabited except for military site (seaseek.com)

Kermadec Island, 1000 km north of North Island, NZ. Uninhabited, subtropical (teara.govt.nz.com)

Kermadec Island, 1000 km north of North Island, NZ. Uninhabited, subtropical (teara.govt.nz.com)

Middleton Reef, Tasman Sea, 550 km east of NSW, Australia. Uninhabited, southern most oceanic platform coral reef. (hellomagazine.com)

Middleton Reef, Tasman Sea, 550 km east of NSW, Australia. Uninhabited, southern most oceanic platform coral reef. (hellomagazine.com)

The good news here is that recovery is possible, that restoring fish communities to levels of biodiversity and biomass perhaps not that different from past historical levels is not just another impossible dream.

Less encouraging is just how difficult reaching the NEOLI standard can be. The four MPAs with full NEOLI status are pictured above. All four are extremely isolated and almost completely uninhabited. They hardly represent our real and over-crowded world.

Still, knowing what is needed we may be able to rehabilitate many currently ineffective MPAs. Perhaps small ones can be made larger and more isolated. Certainly they can be made No-Take, enforcement can be ensured, and they will of course get older.

Other studies point out more that should be obvious. For instance, coastal fishing communities need to be included in the decisions to create No-Take MPAs, for they know where the MPAs should be placed, and enforcement is more successful if it comes from the community. Comanagement is critical to MPA success along inhabited coasts, and it works a lot better than any alternative.

School of hammerhead sharks, Isla del Coco, CR. Top predators modify their food webs. (superslice.com)

School of hammerhead sharks, Isla del Coco, CR. Top predators modify their food webs. (superslice.com)

Also, rehabilitation of existing failing MPAs is only part of the solution. Currently there are about 6500 MPAs around the world, which sounds like a lot, but in fact they barely cover 2% of the world’s oceans, far from the 20-30% that is probably necessary.

Of course creating new protected No-Take space is difficult, humans will still fish illegally, bottom trawlers still unfortunately exist, and enforcement is always a challenge. But knowing how successful a well designed and truly protected MPA can be makes a huge difference.

We can do this.

The Growth of MPAs

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

To reduce global overfishing, we struggle to nourish sustainable fishing through better regulations, monitoring and enforcement, by eliminating subsidies and destructive fishing methods, and by protecting coastal fishing communities and involving them in co-management.

At the same time, we are establishing more and larger Marine Protected Areas – MPAs. The total area protected has doubled since 2010. This is good news.

Currently, there are about 6000 MPAs around the world, varying immensely in size as well as in what actually gets protected.
Using his executive authority just as Presidents Bush and Clinton did before him, President Obama now is creating the largest MPA yet, this one in the South Central Pacific. The area is already partly protected as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, but it will now become a lot larger, expanding from 224,000 sq km to 2,017,000 sq km – a little larger than Mexico – and it will become a lot more protected, prohibiting all commercial fishing.

The new Marine Protected Area proposed by President Obama will be huge, remote, isolated, and sparsely populated (propresobama.org)

The new Marine Protected Area proposed by President Obama will be huge, remote, isolated, and sparsely populated (propresobama.org)

The new MPA lies southwest of Hawaii and includes the ocean around Palmyra Atoll, Howard and Baker Islands, Kingman Atoll, and Wake Island (of World War II fame). It is so remote that the only commercial fishing there is for tuna – about 3% of the central and western Pacific catch now occurs there, and will have to shift. Remote indeed.

In fact a huge amount of what has been protected globally lies in the Pacific Ocean – the Coral Sea and around New Caledonia, the Great Barrier Reef, Papahanaumokuakea (in nw Hawaiian waters), and soon around both the Pitcairn Islands and Palau. All are huge MPAs, ranging from 360,000 sq km to 1.3 million sq km. Not surprisingly, most of them are also in the EEZs of remote and often sparsely populated islands.

Palmyra Atoll, southwest of Hawaii is one of the 7 islands around which the recently announced MPA will be established (e360yale.edu)

Palmyra Atoll, southwest of Hawaii is one of the 7 islands around which the recently announced MPA will be established (e360yale.edu)

If it weren’t for the growing stresses of climate change, the South Pacific would be the safest region on the planet for tropical organisms to live. Despite the challenges of enforcing protective regulations where there are few people, little land, and lots of ocean, this is all very reassuring.

Palmyra Atoll has an airstrip, a protected lagoon, and few inhabitants: not a controversial site to protect.(travel-images.com)

Palmyra Atoll has an airstrip, a protected lagoon, and few inhabitants: not a controversial site to protect (travel-images.com).

What if we look globally instead of just South Pacifically? Only about 1.17% of the world’s total ocean area is protected, and only about 2.86% of the world’s EEZs are protected. Since an MPA rarely means no fishing, just that some protection from some use occurs, even those low numbers are misleadingly high: of all the area covered by MPAs, only 8% is actually ‘no-take’, truly protected from fishing.

An MPA may still allow multiple uses, and only a restricted region is usually 'no-take' (pcouncil.org).

An MPA may still allow multiple uses, and only a restricted region is usually ‘no-take’ (pcoouncil.org).

Where a lot people actually live, on the crowded coasts of our continents, MPAs are so much harder to create. Those that exist are usually small, multi-use, and not isolated. The resistance to MPAs by commercial fishing, industrial users, residential users, everyone with any kind of stake, can be great.

At the other extreme, on the High Seas beyond the 200-mile EEZ limits of the world’s coastal countries, there really are few constraints and regulations, despite efforts at international cooperation. Protecting a lot of the South Pacific is possible only because of the many remote islands that exist there. The rest of the Pacific as well as the North and South Atlantic Oceans are a different matter.

Enforcement of existing or imagined protection remains the greatest challenge – but in coastal regions it could be done for much less than coastal nations currently spend on subsidizing their fisheries.

Meanwhile, dreams of protecting the High Seas drift closer to reality as discussions about High Seas no-take regions continue, even at the UN. Imagine making 60% no-take, enforced through automatic monitoring of all fishing vessels.

The conversation about MPAs is now also broadening to encompass ecosystem protection – safeguarding ecosystem services, including stronger links with coastal communities.

Obviously we have a long way to go to adequately protect our marine resources from ourselves, and getting there may look impossible. But it isn’t.

The State of Global Fisheries

Friday, May 31st, 2013

So what is the global state of wild-caught or capture fisheries?

In recent decades, the amount of wild caught fish has leveled off, even declined, while the amount of farmed fish and shrimp has grown ever greater. We could conclude that we are now fishing sustainably from wild populations, and the surge in farming has helped reduce the pressure on them.

We would be so wrong.

Though the global sale of fish continues to climb, farmed fish are responsible for all the recent growth (earth-policy.org)

Though the global sale of fish continues to climb, farmed fish are responsible for all the recent growth (earth-policy.org)

Instead over the past few decades fishing fleets have grown in size and searched for fish ever further in the world’s oceans. The result is ever greater fishing effort, but increasingly less catch per unit effort. These are features of unsustainable fishing, not sustainable. The FAO estimates that 57% of fish stocks are fully exploited, and 30% are over-exploited. That doesn’t leave much.

As effort in fishing has increased (number and size of vessels), the catch per effort has decreased (worldbank.org)

As effort in fishing has increased (number and size of vessels), the catch has decreased (worldbank.org)

How can an industry continue to grow despite declining yields? This is a result of huge government subsidies, valued at about 19 billion dollars US per year for developing countries and about nine billion for developed.

Another view - as more and more of the world's oceans have been fished, the catch per effort has declined (worldbank.com)

Another view – as more and more of the world’s oceans have been fished, the catch per effort has declined (worldbank.com)

And there is much more.

For instance, we know that bottom trawling with its indiscriminate destruction of bottom habitats and of non-target species continues to occur on almost every coast and in increasingly deep water despite condemnation by conservation organizations and fisheries scientists.

We also know that for both fish stocks and coastal fishing communities to persist, large areas of coastline need to be protected as ‘no-take’ areas, but still only about 1% of the world’s coastlines are protected in any way. That number should probably be around 20-30%. Even where no-take areas exist, enforcement is often difficult or impossible.

No-take zones in marine protected areas work - like this area in the Dry Tortugas off of Florida where yellow tailed snapper and red grouper have a chance of survival (saltwatersportsman.com)

No-take zones in marine protected areas work – like this area in the Dry Tortugas off of Florida where yellow tailed snapper and red grouper have a chance of survival (saltwatersportsman.com)

If you want to really dig into the state of the world’s fisheries, the best place to go is The Sea Around Us Project where you can explore what is happening and what has happened in each of the world’s 65 coastal Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs). It is a very sobering journey.

Much of all of this of course has been known for decades, but what’s new is that the amount of data, of evidence, has become immense. What’s now emerging is an ability to assess things accurately on a global scale.

For example, we now know that global fishing effort needs to be cut by about 40% in order to keep fish stocks sustainable. To get there, government subsidies need to eliminated, the number of large fishing vessels and licenses need to be reduced through buy-back programs, and smaller quotas need to be enforced. Reducing the industrial scale and increasing the locally managed fleets of smaller craft would mitigate some of the economic pain and support community-based management.

At the same time, the goal of global fisheries scientists remains to manage fisheries not at the species level but at the ecosystem level, even the level of the LME. Almost all nations except for USA and North Korea have ratified the UN Law of the Sea, agreeing to accept the associated obligations and commitments. Imperfect though it no doubt is, it is a vehicle for regulating fishing pressure and resolving differences. We know that where a few or more nations share an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), fisheries agreements are elusive at best and dangerously volatile at worst (as they currently are in the South China Sea). But treaties continue to emerge, and opportunities for cooperative management at least exist.

 Worth watching: China claims most of the South China Sea, and may reject the lines drawn as a result of UN Law of the Sea adjudication (victoryinstitute.net)


Worth watching: China claims most of the South China Sea, and may reject the lines drawn as a result of UN Law of the Sea adjudication (victoryinstitute.net)

With increasing global information about the world’s oceans – including challenging data on coastal development, pollution, ocean warming and acidification – we can encourage decisions that recognize that the Earth is a single, dynamic and adaptable system whose resilience in the face of rapid change is clearly not unlimited.