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Big Marine Parks ‘Save Money And Oceans’

April 19, 2011

Big marine protected areas (MPAs) are cheaper to manage per hectare than small ones, and no-fishing zones are cheaper to manage than multiple-use zones, a new study has found.

“Management costs are rarely taken into account in MPA design,” say Dr Natalie Ban and colleagues, in an article in the latest edition of the journal Conservation Letters. “However it is important to budget for them effectively, so we can be sure the long term goals of the park are achieved.”

The world has an estimated 5000 marine protected areas covering 2.85 million square kilometers of ocean ““ but due to lack of adequate management and enforcement, many are protected in name only. Effective management, and budgeting for the cost of management, is therefore very important. So far only 12 of 190 countries have met their full commitments under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

“MPAs are an investment by society in something we all want to protect ““ our oceans, the life they contain, and the fishing communities that depend on them,” says Dr Ban, from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and James Cook University. “There is a strong call for even more MPAs globally, because so far they only cover about 2 per cent of the world’s oceans.”

However, she adds, it is important to factor in the management costs of a marine park at the outset ““ not just the cost of initial implementation.

Drawing on the experiences of Australia’s Commonwealth MPAs, researchers in the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies examined what contributes to the cost of management.

“In our work we took two scenarios to ask how much it might cost to manage a large area such as the Coral Sea ““ one a simple no-take marine park, where all fishing was banned, and the other a multiple-use marine park where various activities including fishing are allowed but controlled.

“The bottom line is that it costs almost 50% more to manage a large multiple-use park than it does to manage a simple no-take area”, says Professor Bob Pressey, co-author of the study from CoECRS and James Cook University.

With spotter aircraft, mandatory fishing vessel transponders and satellites it is becoming much easier to monitor and control fishing activity especially in coastal waters ““ but the open oceans still pose major difficulties in enforcing MPA rules, says Dr Ban.

“In a multiple-use MPA you have to be able to see who is doing what and where ““ and that may include fishing, both commercial and recreational, tourism, trade, resources exploration and so on. That’s where many of the extra costs lie.”

International legal mechanisms are in place to monitor and manage the high seas, but in practical terms the resources for doing so are still drastically inadequate and the incidence of “Ëœpirate fishing’ and plunder of marine stocks is still high.

“Personally, I believe we can involve a strong network of volunteer rangers who keep an eye on what is going on while they go about their business within a marine park,” Dr Ban suggests.

“But at the end of the day you still need scientists, fisheries patrol officers, education and outreach programs, and some administrators to back them up. Also, a volunteer system is only really practical in frequented coastal waters.”

Australia currently has more than 300 Marine Protected Areas, spanning over a million square kilometers or 11% of the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is in turn the world’s third largest area of sovereign ocean.

The article “Promise and problems for estimating management costs of marine protected areas”; by Natalie C. Ban, Vanessa Adams, Robert L. Pressey and John Hicks appears in the latest Conservation Letters.

Image 1: Healthy reef: photo courtesy of Andrew Baird

Image 2: Healthy reef: photo courtesy of Mia Hoogenboom

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