Monday, 5 May 2014

Five Keys to Effective Marine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, are areas of the ocean which have a degree of restricted human use for the purpose of protecting its natural resources as well as its ecosystem. Over the past years, the number of MPAs has grown rapidly as conservation efforts push the need for these critical refuges for vulnerable species. But the threat of overfishing still prevails in both coastal areas and in the open ocean, where these MPAs exist.

Unfortunately, too often, MPAs fall short of reaching their full potential due to a host of problems including illegal harvesting, poor management, and the presence of animals which can move freely across the boundaries to be fished outside of the MPA. But Graham Edgar, from the University of Tasmania, along with 24 other researchers took on the first global study of its kind to identify what key factors produce effective MPAs and allow them to reach their full potential.

The researchers, along with trained volunteer divers surveyed 964 sites across 87 established MPAs identifying the key indicators of healthy MPAs such as species richness (i.e. how many unique fish species are found) and biomass (i.e. the total number of fish in a survey site). They compared these sites with non-MPA sites that are open to fishing. The results highlight the magnitude of how fishing can affect these species and ecosystems.