Marine Conservation & Sustainable Management

Canada’s marine protected areas protect…. not very much

Current levels of protection inside Canada’s MPAs [marine protected areas] are inadequate to provide the long-term conservation of marine biodiversity. For the most part, there is little difference between what is allowed inside our MPAs and what occurs outside their boundaries”.

Little difference… that’s a pretty damning statement from the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), an NGO established in 1963. After all, what is the point of a MPA that offers little to no protection? There are 740 MPAs covering just 1% of Canada’s ocean, far below internationally agreed Aichi targets of 10% (which in itself is far below the minimum recommended by scientists).

Continue reading “Canada’s marine protected areas protect…. not very much”

Marine Conservation & Sustainable Management

No fishing zones for conservation look good on paper, but the reality can be very different

The global implementation of no-take zones, areas in which fishing (both commercial and recreational) is banned, has been a slow process despite scientific recommendations that they are a valuable tool for conservation – and even support fisheries.  The thinking behind no-take zones is simple.  Prevent extraction from a population and that population will increase over time.  There is plenty of evidence showing that no-take zones have higher fish abundance, biomass, and species richness than comparable fished areas, and that the fish inside no-take zones are larger too.  But there is a catch… designating an area ‘no-take’ is, in itself, not enough to ensure protection.  There are all sorts of factors that can influence the ‘success’ of no-take zones, such as placing the area where it they most needed, reducing pollution from external sources, and the level of compliance and/or enforcement.  After all, if people keep fishing inside the no-take zone, it doesn’t really meet the criteria of being no-take.  Inevitably a fished zone will fail to meet expected successes of a no-take. Continue reading “No fishing zones for conservation look good on paper, but the reality can be very different”

Marine Conservation & Sustainable Management

The ocean and its inhabitants aren’t static, so why do we manage them as if they are?

Ocean wildlife spotting tours don’t necessarily run year-round, instead only going out on the water when the primary species of interest is likely to be in the area.  You may go out and see so much wildlife you can barely count, or you may go out and return without seeing anything.  If you are a fisher, you may have a number of different spots you fish from, or you may use a ‘fish finder’ that points you to where they are most likely to be.  If you could see the smaller critters – the zooplankton, the larval stages of larger marine species (including some that eventually become largely sedentary), you would see that they too move.  In the ocean, creatures move.  Some move short distances, some may cross the global ocean.  The ocean itself is highly dynamic – not just over space, but over time.  This variability in turn gives rise to variability in primary production – and this means that the preferred habitat and vital food resources also shift in time and space, giving rise to a patchy distribution of mobile species, like pelagic fishes, zooplankton, and sea turtles.

So, we have an ocean that is dynamic in both time and space.  We have species that are dynamic in abundance and distribution across time and space.  And we have people, using the ocean differently across time and space.  Yet we draw lines in the ocean, managing our use of it as if everything fitted into nice neat little boxes.  People like lines.  Lines denote boundaries, allowing us to categorise and compartmentalise the natural world neatly.  We have our Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) denoting countries territories.  We have marine protected areas that can look after key habitats.  But when dealing with the ocean we can see that the world doesn’t necessarily fit into such neat little boxes.  Management placed in a fixed area can work really well for some things but when dealing with mobile species – and indeed mobile people, we need something else to enhance static spatial management measures.  As outlined in a paper lead by Rebecca Lewison of San Diego State University, a team of researchers from around the globe (including myself) dynamic ocean management could be just what we need.

Continue reading “The ocean and its inhabitants aren’t static, so why do we manage them as if they are?”

Marine Conservation & Sustainable Management

Are we really protecting North Atlantic right whales?

With its common name originating from whalers who, because of their tendency to float on the surface once dead, decided that they were the ‘right whale’ hunt, the North Atlantic right whale (Eubalaena glacialis) has had a somewhat difficult past with people.  By 1530s Basque whalers where happily taking these whales (and others too) off Labrador and Newfoundland in the Northeast Atlantic.  By the mid-1600s, shore-based whaling took off down the east coast of the USA.  Between 1634 and 1951, it is estimated that somewhere between 5,500 and 11,000 right whales were killed by hunters.  1935 saw the introduction of the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling – the first protection afforded to these critters but many – but not all – whaling nations (Japan and the then Soviet Union being the exceptions).  Protection was bolsters in 1949 with the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (IWC), which banned signatories from hunting them for commercial purposes.  In the US, they were listed under the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1970, and the subsequent Endangered Species Act of 1973.  Canada, who is not a signatory of the IWC, has listed them under their Species At Risk Act (SARA) as Endangered.  Today it is estimated that there are somewhere between 300 – 400 individuals left, and whilst commercial whaling has ceased, they are still under threat primarily from ship strikes or entanglement in shipping gear.

Continue reading “Are we really protecting North Atlantic right whales?”

Marine Conservation & Sustainable Management, Marine Life

Australia’s protected area network fails to adequately protect the world’s most threatened marine fishes

Australia has, compared to some other countries, a fairly extensive network of both marine and terrestrial protected areas.  On the marine side there is of course the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and more recently the implementation of the Commonwealth Marine Reserve network.  The idea behind any marine protected area is to offer long term “conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”, so one would expect to see some effective protection going on in these areas…right?  Areas chosen, and cared for to ensure they offer conservation value, to do all we can to help keep species going that have suffered population declines because of our actions?  I’m sure many of you won’t be surprised to hear that this isn’t always the case.  Take a look at some of my previous posts over on Google Plushere, here, and here for example.  Unfortunately, as highlighted in a recent study by Karen Devitt, who was based at Charles Darwin University, Australia’s protected areas are inadequate for protecting one of the world’s most threatened marine fishes – the sawfish.

Continue reading “Australia’s protected area network fails to adequately protect the world’s most threatened marine fishes”

Marine Conservation & Sustainable Management

Old fishing line hints at fishing levels inside no-take marine protected areas

Dealing with overfishing and destructive fishing practices are a huge issue for marine conservation and management.  Tackling this problem, and trying to repair some of the damage is no easy task.  We know that if they are done properly, no-take marine protected areas can make an impact, not only reducing habitat degradation by removing damaging fishing techniques, but also increasing the density and even the individual size of species targeted by fisheries.   The benefits these no-take zones provide can spill over to fishers too.  And that’s not just a scientist point of view either – take a look at this short (5 minute video) focusing on lobster potter Geoff Huelin who fishes around Lundy Island – the UK’s first no-take zone.

There are many factors that can make or break a no-take zone.  In the video Geoff touches on just one of those factors – policing the zone to make sure that people are abiding by the regulations.  This is important.  It’s no good having regulations to protect an area from fishing if fishing happens there anyway.  It is the action of people – not the designation itself per se, that makes an appreciable difference to marine biodiversity recovery.  Geoff tells us that for the Lundy Island no-take zone enforcement isn’t a huge challenge because the no-take zone is viewable from the shore.  There is, Geoff tells us, usually somebody watching.  But this can’t be said for all no-take zones.  It’s not just distance from the shoreline that can impact on enforcement capabilities. Lundy’s no-take is small.  Some no-take zones are huge, and very often manager’s budgets and resources are limited.  Take the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park for example which suffers hundreds of infringements of its regulations each year.  Sure both commercial and recreational fishers who break the regulations inside the Park are successfully caught every year using a host of different surveillance techniques, but many more are likely to go unnoticed.  Getting a handle on the scale of non-compliance is the very issue explored in this recent paper by David Williamson from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and fellow researchers. Continue reading “Old fishing line hints at fishing levels inside no-take marine protected areas”