USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences > Blog

January 30, 2012

Marine Protected Areas- How Are They Enforced?

Filed under: Marine Protected Areas — admin @ 10:42 pm

Marine protected areas or MPA’s have become a major part of marine ecosystem management plans. According to Hamilton et al.’s 2009 paper in Sustainability Science, MPA’s have proven to have enormous conservation benefits in the areas where they have been implemented. After five years of protection in the Channel Islands Hamilton et al. found that there were significantly higher densities and biomass of targeted fish species inside the reserves compared with outside. In addition, Roberts et al. found that marine protected areas play a key role in supporting nearby fisheries. The evidence of these researchers reveals that MPA’a are an effective means of protecting ecosystems but what happens if people refuse to abide by the parameters of the MPA and if local governments can’t do anything about it?

On July 18th, 2011 an industrial fishing vessel from Ecuador, the Fer Mary 1, was caught with what turned out to be the biggest case of shark killing in the history of the Galapagos National Park. The Fer Mary 1 was detected by the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) used by the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS). The GNPS sent a crew to intercept the vessel operating 20 nautical miles inside the Galapagos’s Marine Reserve. They found 357 different species of shark, including one Mako, protected under the Convention on Migratory Species, and several species on the IUCN’s red list. All shark species are protected inside the reserve.  Despite the clear evidence the crew has not even been charged yet. According to Galapagos law, if the crew is convicted they could get up to 3 years in prison. They have not even been officially charged yet. An investigation was opened and the crew was detained but on August 3rd, 2011 they were released by the order of a judge. In order for the case to move forward all parties will have to return to the island, but history has shown that when asked to return the accused do not. Police do have the authority to detain them and transport them back but the budget to do so does not exist. In addition the court has declared itself “incompetent” in dealing with environmental crimes.

Lady Justice has Abandoned Galapagos

So hundreds of sharks were poached in a marine reserve and their function within the ecosystem will likely be disturbed. Yet, those who clearly violated the law faced no punishment because of the ineffectiveness of the local judiciary.

The enforcement mechanisms off our own coast have proven to be effective so far. In 2009, the Risa Lynn was given a $10,000 fine for illegally fishing in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary south of Anacapa and Santa Cruz. It was a coordinated effort by the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, the CA Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Therefore, the probability of poaching and the effectiveness in deterring poachers with the strength of enforcement mechanisms should be considered to a greater extent when analyzing the effectiveness of a marine reserve.

In addition, (since marine protected areas around the world are very important parts of the greater ocean ecosystem and vital to the biodiversity of the planet) should we and do we have the responsibility to help protect areas like the Galapagos and other marine protected areas around the world?

This post was written by Evelyn Cintron, a senior (BA) majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Biological Natural Science.

January 26, 2012

Marine Protected Areas

Filed under: Catalina Island,Marine Protected Areas — admin @ 8:32 pm

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are government-protected regions in which human activity is regulated in order to preserve both marine resources and their unique ecosystems. Through different types of management programs and restriction strategies, government and local communities collaborate in order to protect threatened marine biodiversity and landscapes. Although MPAs may differ substantially in their size, location, and level of restriction, the majority of MPAs are established within territorial waters where enforcement can be ensured.

There are a variety of management approaches utilized by government in order to rehabilitate threated marine ecosystems.  The least prevalent—occurring in less than 1 percent of all United States’ waters—are “no-take” zones, areas where fishing is not allowed.  Other more common restrictions are ship transit regulated areas and areas of no oil and gas mining. “Seasonal and Temporary Management” restricts fishing seasonally in order to allow fish populations to recover from harvesting, common during the spawning season of over-extracted fish species.  Because MPAs are difficult to enforce, communities participate in their protection by managing and imposing restrictions, either independently or jointly with the government. Because they are aimed at addressing ecological and socio-economic needs, in return, they positively influence the communities supporting them.

MPAs are widely recognized as a successful method for not only preventing further marine habitat degradation, but also, for the recovery of targeted fish populations. By limiting access to protected areas, the stress placed on local marine populations— due to fishing and other industry—is substantially reduced. Thus, mortality rates are reduced, which results in the survival and establishment of targeted species’ populations. While perhaps the biomass increase of targeted species might be most noticeable within the boundaries of the MPA, another effect, the ‘spillover effect’, has been shown to boost fish stocks in the areas surrounding MPAs. When localized overpopulation of certain species within the MPA occurs, individuals within fish populations leave the MPA in search of a less competitive environment. This exodus provides a steady stock of fish for fishermen operating outside the MPA. Recent research indicates that the spillover effect also applies to larvae, which drifts with ocean currents to surrounding areas. As a result of this migration, MPAs are designed into networks, which are aimed at establishing fish populations over a large area.

Despite the weight of scientific evidence supporting the benefits of MPAs, certain stakeholders still criticize and oppose the establishment of additional MPAs. The local fishing industry frequently opposes the development of MPAs due to potential restrictions that may limit their access to profitable fishing grounds. This is a natural concern, particularly if local fishermen do not understand the potential benefits of MPAs—increased catches of fish and larger game fish due to the spill over effect.  Other major stakeholders, representatives of the shipping industry, argue that certain MPAs restrict the flow of commercial and other various types of shipping vessels, which in turn cost companies money. In addition, oil and gas officials, argue that restrictions prevent them from pursing untapped oil and gas reserves that exist within restricted areas. Finally, the establishment of MPAs might infringe on the rights of indigenous peoples to extract resources from protected areas.

In the beginning of the decade, Marine Protected Areas came to the forefront of many international assemblies.  In order to draw attention toward the issue, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), The Evian Agreement (2003), and United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (2004) set goals of establishing marine networks by 2012.  Although these goals were criticized as vague and ultimately unenforceable, they highlighted the importance of MPAs in order to mitigate recent marine biodiversity loss on a global, regional, and national scale.  In effect, many nations, including the United States, pledged to establish them.

In 1999, California passed the Marine Life Protection Act.  A part of the California Fish and Game Code, the Marine Life Protection Act requires MPAs to be established into a network by 2011.  Designed by a team of public advisers—the Blue Ribbon Task Force, a group of 7 public policy leaders nominated by the California National Recourse Agency— stakeholders and scientific advisory groups, MPAs and networks are created based on scientific case studies and statistical analysis.  California’s statewide MPA network is divided into five regional networks—the north coast network, San Francisco Bay network, north central coast network, central coast network, and the south coast network— which are strategically linked together. Initiated in September of 2007 and projected to be completed in 2012, the California MPA network consists of more than 18% of California’s state marine waters. Within the Los Angeles County, a part of the south coast network, there are thirteen MPAs, with nine MPAs surrounding Catalina Island. Evaluated based on adequacy, representability, resilience, and connectivity, these MPAs are constantly being monitored and evaluated in order to improve and gain more information on trends of ecosystem rehabilitation.

Despite an increased awareness towards marine biodiversity and its habitat, there still exist many at-risk marine environments internationally.  Because international waters are nearly impossible to monitor and enforce, there remains a huge inconsistency between international and national efforts towards marine protection and rehabilitation.  With constantly changing marine ecosystems, due to over extraction, pollution and global warming, marine biodiversity and marine habitats are projected to only deteriorate further.  However, scientists and conservation workers are suggesting an international network of MPAs—a web of interconnecting “breeding grounds”, aimed at feeding biodiversity to fisheries and the marine ecosystem on an international scale.   Although this might not be politically feasible in the near future, scientific evidence indicates that if this feat can be accomplished, it would positively impact on both the marine environment and those individuals who are economically dependent on the ocean for their survival.

Additional References:

National Marine Protected Area Center.

NOAA’s National Ocean Service: Marine Protected Areas.

California Department of Fish & Game, Marine Life Protection Act.

Marine protected area.

This post was authored by Michalea McLoughlin, a senior Environmental Studies major (BA); and Nick Horsburgh, a senior double majoring in Environmental Studies (BA) and Psychology (BA)