Most marine-protection measures are not working

Ningaloo Marine Park in Australia is well-known for its thriving whale shark population (Mattia Valente)
Ningaloo Marine Park in Australia is well-known for its thriving whale shark population (Mattia Valente)

Last Updated on July 2, 2024 by Divernet

A new, more flexible approach is needed, says PETER JS JONES of UCL

The radio crackles into life on a small boat off an idyllic beach in Ningaloo Marine Park, Western Australia. Two recreational fishers are trying to catch prized spangled emperors in a sanctuary zone, where all fishing is supposed to be banned, to help protect this fish from overfishing.

A recreational fisher further down the coast is using his radio to alert others of the imminent arrival of marine park wardens in a patrol boat. The two fishers calmly stash their rods, power up the large outboard engine and motor away from the sanctuary zone.

By the time the wardens arrive, all appears calm and well. This scenario illustrates how challenging it can be tp protect marine wildlife from the sometimes damaging effects of human activities, such as fishing.

Almost every country in the world is trying to achieve an internationally agreed legal target to protect 30% of their land and sea area by 2030. Setting up marine protected areas (MPAs), such as marine parks, is an important way of achieving this target. But they have to be effective in actually reducing the negative effects of human activities, as well as fair to local people in avoiding excessive restrictions.

There are concerns that the race to create more MPAs or underwater nature reserves could be distracting governments from the challenges of ensuring that conservation measures are as effective as possible in fairly reducing harm from human activities that threaten marine wildlife, such as fishing and tourism.

To explore different ways of addressing such challenges, our research assessed the effectiveness of 50 MPAs in 24 countries, from Ecuador to Madagascar and Vietnam.

We compared the strengths and weaknesses of different conservation measures for protecting marine wildlife by using a set of 36 “governance incentives”. These include providing financial compensation, requiring legal accountability and establishing local groups that encourage community participation in discussions, decisions and related research.

Working with 70 researchers from various countries, we interviewed around 20 people involved in each of the 50 MPAs, from fishermen to tourism operators and recreational sea-users. We also analysed marine-conservation measures to see how effective they were and observed day-to-day activities on the coast.

Our aim was to understand how people perceive the effectiveness of some of these marine-conservation measures and explore their views about which activities, such as fishing, could be better managed.

Mandu Sanctuary Zone in Australia is a prime snorkelling destination and the reserve encourages visitors to look, don’t touch when they swim (Peter Jones, CC BY-ND)
Mandu Sanctuary Zone in Australia is a prime snorkelling destination and the reserve encourages visitors to look, don’t touch when they swim (Peter Jones, CC BY-ND)

The 50 MPAs scored a low average of 2/5 for effectiveness. A lot of protective conservation measures were in place on paper but they were not effective in reducing the harmful effects of certain human activities to protect marine wildlife.

This reveals the need for these MPAs to make a more tangible difference, rather than just being what many term “paper parks” that exist in legal texts but not in practical reality.

Our research confirms that there’s no one key to success – different combinations of conservation measures work best to improve effectiveness in different locations.

One clear overall trend was that a more diverse mix of management approaches resulted in greater reduction of the effects of fishing, tourism and other human activities.

Tackling illegal fishing

In Western Australia, Ningaloo and Shark Bay marine parks demonstrate how this can be done relatively well to reduce negative effects and better conserve marine wildlife. Here, fisheries officers enforce legal restrictions on recreational fishing, which has led to the recovery of some previously overfished populations, such as pink snapper, and increases in recreational fishing catches.

But it can be challenging to prevent illegal fishing in remote no-take sanctuaries, as the scenario above illustrates. Recreational fishers who are caught breaking the rules are fined, but these fixed penalties are often not enough to discourage further illegal fishing.

Marine wildlife watching, particularly for whale sharks and bottlenose dolphins, is managed through a restricted number of licences for tour boats to operate.

Legal conditions to prevent disturbance to whale sharks and dolphins are attached to these licences, enforced by vessels competitively watching each other's operations, in the hope that they can acquire additional wildlife-watching licences. Satellite surveillance and patrols by wardens helps to monitor wildlife watching vessels.

Observe to conserve is the key message for Ningaloo marine park visitors (Peter Jones, CC BY-ND)
Observe to conserve is the key message for Ningaloo marine park visitors (Peter Jones, CC BY-ND)

Ningaloo and Shark Bay marine parks also promote fairness to local people. The traditional ways of life of aboriginal Australians are respected and their understanding of ecosystems generated over many generations is learnt from.

They are employed as wardens and research officers for the parks. Each of these two parks has a committee that provides for participation in discussions and decisions by local people representing different interests, including aboriginal Australians.

Ecosystems are more resilient to the impact of human activities if they support a wider diversity of species. MPAs represent complex social and ecological systems, each interacting in different ways with local people in coastal communities.

Our research shows that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are examples of good practice, such as Ningaloo and Shark Bay marine parks, but even they aren’t perfect, as the challenge with illegal fishing illustrates. And what works in one situation might not work in another.

Our research also shows that to successfully protect 30% of their land and sea by 2030, governments and local people should use diverse management approaches in combination, rather than unrealistically seeking one best solution.

The key to resilience is diversity, both of species in ecosystems and conservation measures in protected-area management systems.

Peter JS Jones is Emeritus Professor of Environmental Governance at UCL (University College London). He has spent more than 30 years undertaking inter-disciplinary research on the governance of human uses of marine resources, particularly in relation to MPAs and marine spatial planning.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

Also on Divernet: PAPER PARKS: ‘TWO-THIRDS OF MPAS INEFFECTIVE’, CASE CLOSED? STRICT MPA ENFORCEMENT IS WIN-WIN, SOCORRO STUDY HOPED TO SILENCE MPA CRITICS, BOTTOM-TRAWLING BANNED IN 4 UK MPAS

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#askmark, Heyo! Longtime listener, first time caller, etc. Went with a BP/W for my first set and I'm having a really hard time keeping the power inflator on my shoulder; the corrugated hose keeps flipping off my shoulder and getting twisted up or just ending up behind the backplate and dangling down the back of the wing. Is there something I can add to my harness to keep it in place? I don't want to tie it to the D ring since I wouldn't be able to lift it to deflate. I'm using the cheap DGX Gears wing for reference. Thanks!

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@jaketarren
#askmark, Heyo! Longtime listener, first time caller, etc. Went with a BP/W for my first set and I'm having a really hard time keeping the power inflator on my shoulder; the corrugated hose keeps flipping off my shoulder and getting twisted up or just ending up behind the backplate and dangling down the back of the wing. Is there something I can add to my harness to keep it in place? I don't want to tie it to the D ring since I wouldn't be able to lift it to deflate. I'm using the cheap DGX Gears wing for reference. Thanks!

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How Do You Keep Your Corrugated BCD Hose in Place? #askmark

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00:00 Introduction
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05:13 Scuba.com
06:05 Hydrate
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