The primary aims of this plan are to capitalize on collaborative and comparative research opportunities based on the scientific needs shared by large-scale MPAs, and to identify a set of research priorities to be jointly addressed by Big Ocean sites. The Research Agenda notes that large-scale MPAs contain entire, diverse and relatively pristine ecosystems, as well as larger scale natural processes that cannot be studied in their entirety in smaller regions.
“There are several factors that differentiate research conducted in large-scale MPAs from that done on smaller-scale protected areas,” said Daniel Wagner, PhD., research specialist at the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaiʻi and lead author of the document. “Remote large-scale MPAs are detached from local stressors associated with human population centers. As such, they represent some of the greatest natural laboratories on the planet, which can be used as modern day baselines to quantify human impacts in more populated areas.”
Three main categories identified in the plan as being most relevant amongst large-scale MPAs are: biological and ecological characterization; biological, physical and anthropogenic connectivity; and monitoring of temporal trends, including patterns caused by both anthropogenic sources and natural variability. In other words, characterizing what natural resources are present at the sites, how these resources are connected to each other as well as to external sources, and how they change over time.
“This collaborative research will make a significant contribution to our understanding of climate change and its impacts to ocean ecosystems,” said Charles Sheppard, PhD., professor at the University of Warwick and science advisor to the British Indian Ocean Territory MPA. “One of the first collaborations to be carried out under the Big Ocean Research Agenda is a study of coral disease, bleaching and resilience on a broad geographic scale and across a large gradient of human use and impact.”
This collaboration, to be initiated later this month, will engage scientists from Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument with colleagues in the Chagos archipelago to collect baseline data on the prevalence of these coral afflictions for a comparison to other Indo-Pacific sites impacted by local anthropogenic stressors. Using these remote, relatively pristine MPAs as control sites will enable scientists to differentiate between the impacts of specific local stressors and global-scale drivers of bleaching and disease. Ultimately, identification of these key risk factors will allow managers of compromised reefs to improve reef health by reducing the impacts of local human activities.
“While the mutual research needs of Big Ocean sites are primary to this shared research agenda, the underlying intent is to for it to be an adaptive, living document that directly supports and aids the management of our sites,” said ‘Aulani Wilhelm, the early architect of Big Ocean and NOAA manager for Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. “The agenda was deliberately framed by both scientists and managers to underscore the critical relationship between management and science in order to be effective in protecting these special places,” she emphasized.
Rob Toonen, Associate Research Professor at the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, a long-time research partner to Papahānaumokuākea, added: “just as National Parks on land support habitat and wildlife preservation, with associated socioeconomic benefits including tourism and ecosystem services, these enormous MPAs provide a refuge from rapidly expanding human pressures in the sea. This research agenda outlines a shared vision to understanding how marine ecosystems function, what services they provide to humans, and how much it would cost to restore them or try to engineer alternatives to those services lost from degraded ecosystems. Big Ocean sites currently contain more than 80% of managed area in the sea, and provide our best hope for arresting the global decline in marine biodiversity.”
Big Ocean’s A Shared Research Agenda For Large-Scale Marine Protected Areas is an outgrowth of a three-day Marine Conservation Think Tank held in December 2011 in conjunction with the 25th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB) in New Zealand. At the Think Tank, Big Ocean facilitated an unprecedented gathering of managers and scientists to discuss the knowledge gaps, scientific needs and research priorities shared across large-scale MPAs, building the framework for this plan.
The research agenda can be downloaded from the Big Ocean website at: www.bigoceanmanagers.org.
Big Ocean was established in December 2010 with the goal of improving the management of very large MPAs through sharing information, expertise and resources. Encompassing 3.2 million km2 of ocean, twice the size of the Gulf of Mexico, Big Ocean’s current member sites include: the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (Australia), the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (U.S.A), the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (Republic of Kiribati), the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument (U.S.A.), the British Indian Ocean Territory MPA (United Kingdom) the Motu Motiro Hiva Marine Park (Chile), and the Cook Islands Marine Park (Cook Islands).
The Big Ocean Think Tank, where the framework for the shared research agenda was created, was hosted and supported by the Society for Conservation Biology and the International Congress for Conservation Biology. Additional support was provided by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, Conservation International, the New England Aquarium, the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology and Marine Management Solutions. Valuable contributions to the Big Ocean research agenda were provided by ‘Aulani Wilhelm, Alan Friedlander, Andrew Skeat, Anne Sheppard, Brian Bowen, Carlos Gaymar, Charles Sheppard, Daniel Wagner, Gustavo San Martin, Ian Wright, Jason Philibotte, John Parks, Jolene Bosanquet, Joseph Brider, Kahi Fujii, Kahoane Aiona, Kim Morishige, Liz Wright-Koteka, Nai‘a Lewis, Noeline Brownie, Randall Kosaki, Randi Rotjan, Regen Jamieson, Rob Toonen, Rochelle Constantine, Schannel van Dijken, Sean Anderson, Sue Taei, Tania Temata, Tim Carruthers, Trevor Durbin, Tukabu Teroroko, Tupe Short, Wiriki Tooma and Zeenatul Basher