Marine protected areas are regions of seas, oceans, estuaries, and in the US, the Great Lakes, that are afforded special protections. MPAs restrict human activity for conservation purposes, generally in order to protect natural or possibly cultural resources. MPAs may limit such things as development, fishing practices, fishing seasons, catch limits, moorings, and removal or disruption of marine life.
A new study by the University of Plymouth in the UK looked at the effectiveness of MPAs in increasing the total abundance of reef species. It looked at the MPAs in Lyme Bay, off the south coast of England, where two of them are co-located but governed by different constraints.
The study found that whole-site management of an MPA can increase the total abundance of reef species within its borders by up to 95%. This is in contrast to the MPA where only known features are conserved and human activity is otherwise allowed to continue unchecked. In that place, species abundance increased by only 15%.
The whole-site MPAs were observed to have other benefits as well. They show higher levels of functional redundancy, meaning that when there are species losses, they are compensated by other species. Whole-site MPAs also exhibit higher levels of species diversity.
MPAs are increasingly being recognized as a sustainable way to enhance the marine environment even while supporting coastal communities. The Global Ocean Alliance, a 72-country alliance led by the UK, has set a target of protecting 30% of all marine areas by 2030. The new study shows that even more important than simply establishing marine protected areas, it is essential that they are effectively implemented.
Photo, posted October 28, 2011, courtesy of Benjamin Evans via Flickr.