September 25, 2008

Integrated Ecological Assessment As the Basis for Management of a Coastal Urban Protected Area: A Case Study of Xiamen, China

By Huang, Yun-feng Cui, Sheng-hui; Ouyang, Zhi-yun

Key words: Marine protected areas, ecosystem-based management, ecological indicators, urbanisation SUMMARY

In the process of rapid urbanisation in China, environmental problems have increased, from sewage discharge to climate change. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are widely advocated as a means to comprehensively manage human activities and resources in ocean and coastal areas. However, MPAs only safeguard populations or assemblages within their boundaries and fail to offer any protection from many major threats to marine environments. An increase in environmental threats implies an increase in environmental management and assessment. We propose a methodological framework for integrated ecological assessment using the Xiamen marine protected area as a case study. The integrated ecological assessment framework can be generalised from the dimensions of environment, economy, society and institution. Surveys were undertaken to assess the state of the Xiamen coastal environment, the resources of the reserve, and issues associated with human activities. Stakeholders were interviewed about their attitudes towards issues regarding the management of the reserve. The constraints of the reserve management were identified. The methodological framework is presented as a tool to help identify relative ecological security in order to prioritise actions and assess the ecological implications of management and policy decisions.


China is now progressing rapidly towards urbanisation and human activities are increasingly gravitating towards coastal cities. The more people that crowd into coastal cities, the more pressure they impose on both the land and the sea. Because of urbanisation, environmental problems have increased, from sewage discharge to climate change, and coastal urban protected areas are inevitably exposed to these pressures.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are widely advocated as a means for comprehensively managing human activities and resources in ocean and coastal areas (Salm et al. 2000; Pollnac et al. 2001; Dalton 2004). Their use is proliferating around the world, and they are thought to be the most efficient tool for the management of over-exploited coastal resources in developing countries. Although researchers have supported the use of MPAs as an effective tool for conserving and improving coastal resources, estimates from the Philippines indicate that the majority (up to 80%) of MPAs are not successful and their implementation is challenging in the current socio-political and environmental context (Pollnac et al. 2001). More recently, in Southeast Asia 332 MPAs were assessed for their management effectiveness but only 14% were effectively managed, 48% partially effective and 38% were inadequately managed (Burke et al. 2002). To date, most studies on the role, effectiveness and potential of MPAs have focused on exploited taxa (fish and a few invertebrates), considering management of fisheries as a synonym for conservation of biodiversity and habitats. Exceptions in the recent literature include Gladstone's (2002) examination of biodiversity conservation for selecting reserves off the southeast coast of Australia, and Hooker et al. (2002) analysis of trophic interactions in the design of a marine reserve in a submarine canyon off the east coast of Canada. Modellers are also extending the analyses to value the management effectiveness of MPAs. For example, Pomeroya et al. (2005) provided an overview of MPA management effectiveness, methodology and indicators, including summary results of the testing phase of a guidebook for 18 MPAs around the world (Pomeroya et al. 2004).

MPAs, however, only safeguard populations or assemblages within their boundaries and fail to offer any protection from some major threats to marine environments, including coastal modifications and subsequent changes in local hydrodynamic and sedimentary regimes, the spread of exotic species, disease epidemics and, above all, depletion of habitats by urbanisation. This calls for a more holistic approach to MPA management. Ecosystem-based management has emerged as a tool to integrate scientific knowledge on ecological interrelationships and complex socioeconomic and political frameworks of values, with the aim of achieving the long-term sustainability of a region, i.e. MPAs. Few studies have simultaneously addressed ecosystem and urbanisation considerations in the selection of potential MPA sites. This paper presents a model to assess the ecological security status of MPAs for ecosystem- based MPA management. This approach to MPA assessment combines conservation principles and ecosystem management derived specifically for marine environments impacted by urban development. The goal of integrated ecological assessment is to assess the effect of human activities on MPAs at integrated levels of scale in space and time; the results can then be translated into management measures to be taken and evaluated.


Site description

The Xiamen MPA for rare marine species is in the Xiamen municipal sea area, on the southeast coast of China (24[degrees]20'- 24[degrees]44'N and 117[degrees]27'-117[degrees]52'E; Figure 1). The MPA covers 33,088 ha, with a coastline of 181 km, and was established in 2000. It protects the rare marine species the Chinese white dolphin (Sousa chinensis), lancelet (Branchiostoma belcheri tsingtauense) and egret. Xiamen is one of the five fastest-growing Special Economic Zones in the country, covering a terrestrial area of 1,565 km^sup 2^ and a maritime area of about 390 km^sup 2^. Xiamen serves not only as a prominent international trading port, but also as a leading economic powerhouse in Fujian Province. Xiamen has maintained an astonishing annual economic growth rate of 18.5% over the past two decades. The Xiamen MPA covers almost the whole Xiamen sea area and is subject to great pressure from land-based activities. The uses of coastal and marine resources have become more diverse and intense. This requires a balanced approach to protection of the natural resource base while maintaining the rights of local communities to use the resources.

An overview of the assessment methodology

MPAs are increasingly being used as a tool for both marine nature conservation and the sustainable management of the living resources in seas. In addition, the ongoing development of an ecosystem-based approach to fishery management has revealed a number of objectives shared between marine nature conservation and fishery management that may be further integrated through the development of MPAs. The goal of integrated ecological assessment is not only to assess the management effectiveness of MPAs, but also to identify coastal hazards and threats to MPAs.

The Xiamen MPA covers almost 85% of the maritime area in Xiamen. Conservation of the MPA has a direct relationship to the urbanisation of Xiamen City. Therefore, the whole Xiamen administrative area was considered as the boundary for the ecological assessment. Around the MPA, the ecosystem is expected to operate under many different biophysical, socioeconomic and institutional (governance) conditions. The causal relationships between the operation of such conditions and the direct or indirect influences acting on the security of the MPA are numerous and complicated. Figure 2 presents a highly simplified representation of these complex relationships and how they eventually influence whether or not an MPA is capable of achieving ecological security.


Four approaches were used to acquire data related to the indicators: field surveys, literature analysis, stakeholder interviews and expert consultations. Field surveys were undertaken to collect data for the biological diversity and health of focal species from 2001 to 2003. Socioeconomic data were gathered through literature analysis from the Xiamen statistical yearbook, with the exception of the level of human impacts on resources. The status of MPA governance performance and public participation was surveyed using stakeholder interviews. The other data were obtained from expert consultations.

Indicator system for assessment

Efforts have been made to approach the governance aspects affecting MPAs. Some of these may interact with the MPA goals and objectives, and may also help in assessing ecosystem management of specific MPA sites. For example, the International MPA Management Effectiveness Initiative is a joint initiative of the World Commission for Protected Areas - Marine (WCPA - Marine) and the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). One of the objectives of this initiative is to develop specific indicators and guidelines for MPA managers to evaluate the effectiveness of their sites. The selected indicators and their subsystems and themes are summarised in Table 1. We used this integrated method to assess MPA management. The integrated assessment index I is the MPA integrated ecological security index, and can be expressed as:

where, I = value of ecological security index; X^sub i^ = estimated value of indicator i within the indicator system; m = total number of indicators; W^sub i^ = weight of indicator i. We set 1 >/= I >/= 0, the weight of each indicator being determined from expert consultations. To determine categories for the security status, uneven intervals between security degrees were adopted as a method of classification (Table 2). RESULTS

The Xiamen MPA was in the 'watchful' state, according to the ecological security index value of 0.29. Important insecurity indicators were marine water quality, degree of information dissemination to encourage stakeholder compliance, population, unemployment, focal species distribution area and abundance. The constraints to the reserve management were: the need to strengthen public participation in MPA management; the mismatch between environmental protection goals and the need for economic growth; and lack of a coherent and integrated governance system. The most urgent requirement is for actions that provide a framework for ecosystem- based management in the MPA. Such actions include enhancing the participation of major stakeholders in the process of planning and management, developing high-level commitment by governments to sustainable marine resource management during urban development, implementing habitat and species conservation plans, and reducing the risks and consequences of seascape change and coastal reclamation.


The lack of effectiveness of MPAs is no mystery to MPA managers in the field and has been highlighted by several authors (Kelleher 1996; McClanahan et al. 1999). The Xiamen MPA also did not realize the management goals according to the results of our assessment. Actions are necessary to promote the ecological security of the Xiamen reserve: more cooperation from the MPA governance authorities and the public; coordination of the management of the MPA with urban development and construction; and coordination between the MPA management body, governments and the scientific community.

Jameson and colleagues (2002) argued that MPAs are unlikely to be effective if they are located in areas that are subject to numerous, and often uncontrollable, external stressors from atmospheric, terrestrial, and oceanic sources, all of which can degrade the environment and compromise protection. However, in order to protect endangered species, the management of MPAs needs to take place within the context of a larger coastal and ocean governance system, with recognition of the larger system within which they are located. This paper has presented an ecosystem-based management approach considering the impact of urbanisation and human activities. This has included the design of an integrated ecological model (Figure 2 and Table 1), with recommendations to fill the gap that has been identified in this area of MPA governance.

Salomon et al. (2002) utilised an ecosystem model to examine ecological impacts of designating a reserve in a proposed conservation area in Canada. Unlike previous models, the model presented in this paper considers coastal resources as well as the environment and urban human activities, such as habitat destruction and coastal hazards. This approach to MPA assessment combines conservation principles and ecosystem management derived especially for marine environments impacted by urban development.

The fundamental lesson that emerges from this assessment is the need to enhance our understanding of the ecosystem-based management of MPAs in order to develop ecological security indicators that can effectively aid policy development. Existing MPA evaluation studies have a number of weaknesses that limit their usefulness in coastal urban protected areas. Our analysis shows that better management of coastal urban protected areas should emphasise the cause of insecurity conditions that provide holistic snapshots of urbanisation and MPAs rather than guidance on governance effectiveness.


This study was supported by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (KZCX2-YW-422) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (40701059). We would like to thank Dr. Yong-guan Zhu and David Ness for revising and commenting on earlier drafts, as well as Professor Hua-sheng Hong at the Environmental Science Research Center, Xiamen University for providing the database which was essential to the assessment.


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Yun-feng Huang1,3, Sheng-hui Cui2 and Zhi-yun Ouyang1

1 State Key Lab of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-environmental

sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

2 Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xiamen, China

3 College of Biological Engineering, Jimei University, Xiamen, China

Correspondence: Sheng-hui Cui, Institute of Urban Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, 2 Huyuan Road, Xiamen 361003, China. Email: [email protected]

Copyright Sapiens Publishing Aug 2008

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