Australia’s marine (un)protected areas: government zoning bias has left marine life in peril since 2012



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Bob Pressey, James Cook University; Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero, James Cook University; Rodolphe Devillers, Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), and Trevor J Ward, University of Technology Sydney

Last week Australia joined a new alliance of 40 countries pledging to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 from pollution, overfishing, climate change and other environmental threats. Australia already boasts one of the largest networks of marine protected areas in the world, with about half of Commonwealth waters around mainland Australia under some form of protection.

Job done? Actually, no.

Despite the size of our protected areas, marine wildlife continues to vanish. A government report card recently scored the Great Barrier Reef a “D” for its failing health. Meanwhile, commercial fishing depletes non-target or non-economic species as collateral damage, and damages marine habitats through trawling, the marine equivalent of clear felling forests. These issues are extensive, but poorly understood.

So why the paradox? Our research analysis reveals that size is misleading. Marine zonings vary in their effectiveness in protecting biodiversity, and zones established in 2012, 2015 and 2018 put effective protection in the wrong places.

Unhelpful from the start

In a rich, developed country, a society’s commitment to nature conservation is measured by what it’s prepared to give up. In Australia, that’s not much.

In late 2012, Labor announced a massive increase in Commonwealth marine protected areas (MPAs). But it failed to mention that the placement of “highly protected zones” — which don’t allow any commercial extraction — had no effect on oil and gas activities and a very minor effect on commercial fishing.

Fishing trawler at sea, surrounded by gulls
Many commercial fishing practices, such as trawling, damage marine ecosystems.
Shutterstock

As a result, the contribution of the 2012 MPAs to conservation was disproportionately small.

In 2015 the Federal Coalition changed the 2012 zonings. In 2018 the Coalition changed them again.

The Coalition was openly hostile toward the 2012 MPA expansion, so it came as no surprise the 2015 and 2018 MPA systems would become even more strongly residual — biased towards areas with least promise for extractive activities.

Our recent paper tells the story in detail, but here’s a summary.

Zoning the ocean to make almost no difference

Labor’s 2012 additions to the MPA system covered 2.4 million square kilometres, an impressive figure at first glance.

Under the Coalition, the boundaries of Labor’s new MPAs were not altered, but there were large changes to the internal zonings, which specify permitted uses, in 2015 and 2018.

The changes meant highly protected zones declined from 37% of the total MPA system in 2012 to about 22% in 2018. Other zones that allow fishing with varying restrictions, or that place few restrictions on commercial extraction, made up the rest. The conservation benefits of those other zones — dubbed “partially protected areas” — are dubious.

Coral
Last week a reef quality report card highlighted the marine environment around the Great Barrier Reef remains poor.
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How much difference did all the zoning and rezoning make to marine conservation? Very little.

That’s because, from the start, highly protected zones were put in places with no petroleum extraction and low previous fishing yield. The bias was only exaggerated in 2015, and again in 2018.




Read more:
75% of Australia’s marine protected areas are given only ‘partial’ protection. Here’s why that’s a problem


By 2018, less than 1% of the area previously used for Commonwealth pelagic longlining had been protected from longlining. Pelagic longlining involves setting baited hooks on lines that can be kilometres long, suspended in the water. It can seriously harm non-target species, including sharks and seabirds.

Likewise, only about 1.5% of Australia’s previously trawled areas became covered by zones that prohibit trawling, a practice also known to have serious biodiversity impacts, such as destroying seafloor habitat.

The zoning of the Coral Sea tells part of the story. The 2012 highly protected zones carefully avoided most commercial fishing in this vast region of open ocean, and research showed the benefits to conservation were “minimal”. When the 2012 zones were changed, the area open to fishing methods that pose ecological risks increased further.

Is Australia really leading the world?

After the latest weakening — proposed in 2017 and formalised in 2018 — of the already weak 2012 marine protection, the federal environment minister and the director of Parks Australia said the revisions achieved the right balance between conservation and use.




Read more:
The Coral Sea: an ocean jewel that needs more protection


In terms of commercial fishing, we show the “balance” was about 2% conservation and 98% use across all of Commonwealth marine waters, which cover almost six million square kilometres.

In real terms, Australia’s marine protection is minuscule, and its marine unprotected areas are vast — a failure that has attracted international criticism. In 2017, for instance, 1,286 researchers from 45 countries lambasted the federal government’s draft marine park management plans that are now in place.

The current highly protected zones might guard against future expansion of petroleum extraction and commercial fishing, as technologies and markets evolve. Unfortunately, however, the chances of that seem slim.

Australian MPA decisions since 2012 suggest strongly that, if highly protected zones are found to prevent profitable extraction, they will be downgraded or moved so they don’t get in the way.

Three ways Australia could lead the world (again)

Australia led the world with the 2004 rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, a systematic exercise that placed about a third of the Park in highly protected zones. But almost 17 years on, we can see plenty of room for improvement in marine conservation as we learn what works and what doesn’t.




Read more:
The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. There are a whopping 45 reasons why


How could Australia lead the world now? A first step would be to drop the deception that square kilometres say anything meaningful about conservation.

Our commitment to marine conservation will be measured by how much oil and gas we leave under the seabed, how many fish we leave in the water, and how we catch the others. Decarbonising and properly managing catchments and coastal zones will also be critical.

A second step would be to establish explicit, quantitative, scientifically informed goals for conservation of individual species and ecosystems in highly protected zones. The lack of such goals allowed zonings from 2012 to 2018 to be passed off as representative of marine environments, when they were not.




Read more:
Humans threaten the Antarctic Peninsula’s fragile ecosystem. A marine protected area is long overdue


A third step would be to achieve explicit conservation goals through consultation with diverse stakeholders. This includes co-design and co-management of coastal MPAs that empower local communities and Indigenous peoples from the outset, rather than through consultation late in the process.

After many years of debate over MPAs, some will throw their hands up at the prospect of yet more planning. But that’s what’s needed to make Australia’s MPA zoning effective, along with the (recently elusive) vision and commitment needed for political leadership in real marine conservation.The Conversation

Bob Pressey, Professor, Conservation Planning, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero, Senior Research Fellow, James Cook University; Rodolphe Devillers, Senior research scientist, Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD), and Trevor J Ward, Visiting Fellow, University of Technology Sydney

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

75% of Australia’s marine protected areas are given only ‘partial’ protection. Here’s why that’s a problem



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John Turnbull, UNSW; Carly Cook, Monash University; Emma Johnston, UNSW; Graeme Clark, UNSW, and Kelsey Roberts, Stony Brook University (The State University of New York)

A global coalition of more than 50 countries have this week pledged to protect over 30% of the planet’s lands and seas by the end of this decade. Their reasoning is clear: we need greater protection for nature, to prevent further extinctions and protect the life-sustaining ecosystems crucial to human survival.

The globally recognised tool to safeguard marine biodiversity is to designate a “marine protected area”. But not all protected areas are created equal.

The level of protection these areas provide depends on the activities permitted in their boundaries. For example, in “fully” protected areas, no plants or animals can be removed or harmed. Meanwhile, “partially” protected areas allow various extractive activities to occur, such as fishing and sometimes even mining.

Australia prides itself on having one of the largest marine protected area networks in the world, which includes iconic locations such as the Great Barrier Reef, Jervis Bay in New South Wales, Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria and Rottnest Island in Western Australia. But only one quarter of this network is fully protected.

The remaining three quarters are only partially protected, with vast areas allowing fishing, aquaculture and mining exploration. This is despite industrial-scale extraction of resources going against international guidelines for protected areas.

So why is this a problem? Our two recent research papers show partially protected areas don’t contribute much to wildlife conservation, yet take valuable conservation resources away from fully protected areas, which need them more.

A vibrant purple and red nudis near the ocean floor.
Purple dragon (Flabellina rubrolineata) in Nelson Bay. Fully protected areas have 30% more marine life than unprotected areas.
John Turnbull, Author provided

The gap between fully and partially protected areas

Our landmark study, published today, looked at marine protected areas in southern Australia. We gathered social and ecological data, including conducting 439 interviews, across five states and 7,000 kilometres of coastline.

We found partially protected areas had no more fish, invertebrates or algae than unprotected areas. Fully protected areas, by comparison, had 30% more fish species and over twice the total weight of fish compared to unprotected areas.




Read more:
Why marine protected areas are often not where they should be


We also found partially protected areas were no more of an attraction to locals and visitors than unprotected areas — they had similar numbers and mix of users, such as walkers, swimmers, fishers and divers.

On the other hand, fully protected areas were attractive to locals and visitors for their abundant wildlife and level of protection. They had twice as many divers and more than three times as many snorkelers compared to unprotected areas.

What’s more, swimmers, divers and snorkelers said they experience significantly more marine life in fully protected areas, but not partially protected areas.

Red coral with scuba diver in the background
A sea fan, part of the abundant wildlife in in Lord Howe Island.
John Turnbull, Author provided

Defying public expectations

The Australian marine protected area network has been moving further away from public expectations. In a 2020 social study, researchers found Australians are generally confused about what activities are permitted in these areas.

Survey respondents were presented with the full list of activities allowed within partially protected areas, and asked to indicate which activities they understood to be permitted or prohibited within marine protected areas in Australia.

Overwhelmingly, they believed marine protected areas offer strict protection to the marine environment, preventing all types of extractive uses, including recreational fishing.

Snorkelers in Coral Bay
Swimmers, divers and snorkelers said they experience significantly more marine life in fully protected areas, but not partially protected areas.
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The majority of Australia’s marine protected area network allow for commercial fishing, but few respondents were aware of this. Fewer still were aware large areas permit destructive activities, such as bottom trawling, which can destroy the seabed. The research team also documented many cases where protection has been downgraded, such as the Solitary Islands and Jervis Bay Marine Parks in NSW.

It’s clear Australians expect the marine protected area network to adequately safeguard our unique wildlife. Yet these findings show their views are in stark contrast to the reality of marine environmental protection.

A matter of money

There are costs associated with partially protected areas – they consume conservation resources and occupy space that could otherwise be allocated to more effective protection. In fact, research from 2011 found areas with a mixture of partial and full protection are up to twice as expensive to manage than a simpler fully protected area.

Partially protected areas do have a role in our overall marine network, but they should be used for specific purposes such as enabling traditional management practices, protecting important breeding sites, or acting as buffer zones around fully protected areas.




Read more:
Changes to Australia’s marine reserves leave our oceans unprotected


The recent changes to Australia’s marine reserve network represent an extremely worrying trend, as fully protected areas such as in the Coral Sea and Batemans Bay have been opened up to fishing.

Given the uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of partially protected areas globally, at a time when we face increasing challenges from climate change and loss of biodiversity, the findings of our two recent Australian studies indicate we should be aiming for more fully protected areas, not less.

If the world is to protect 30% of all lands and seas by the end of this decade, those protected areas need to be monitored closely to ensure they are delivering on their goals and expectations.




Read more:
Worried about Earth’s future? Well, the outlook is worse than even scientists can grasp


The Conversation


John Turnbull, Postdoctoral research associate, UNSW; Carly Cook, Lecturer Head, Cook Research Group; School of Biological Sciences , Monash University; Emma Johnston, Professor and Dean of Science, UNSW; Graeme Clark, Senior Research Associate in Ecology, UNSW, and Kelsey Roberts, Post doctoral researcher at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Stony Brook University (The State University of New York)

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

Marine protection falls short of the 2020 target to safeguard 10% of the world’s oceans. A UN treaty and lessons from Antarctica could help



John B. Weller, Author provided

Natasha Blaize Gardiner, University of Canterbury and Cassandra Brooks, University of Colorado Boulder

Two-thirds of the world’s oceans fall outside national jurisdictions – they belong to no one and everyone.

These international waters, known as the high seas, harbour a plethora of natural resources and millions of unique marine species.

But they are being damaged irretrievably. Research shows unsustainable fisheries are one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity in the high seas.

According to a 2019 global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services, 66% of the world’s oceans are experiencing detrimental and increasing cumulative impacts from human activities.

In the high seas, human activities are regulated by a patchwork of international legal agreements under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But this piecemeal approach is failing to safeguard the ecosystems we depend on.




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The world’s ocean is bearing the brunt of a changing climate. Explore its past and future in our new series


Empty pledges

A decade ago, world leaders updated an earlier pledge to establish a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) with a mandate to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020.

But MPAs cover only 7.66% of the ocean across the globe. Most protected sites are in national waters where it’s easy to implement and manage protection under the provision of a single country.

In the more remote areas of the high seas, only 1.18% of marine ecosystems have been gifted sanctuary.

The Southern Ocean accounts for a large portion of this meagre percentage, hosting two MPAs. The South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA covers 94,000 square kilometres, while the Ross Sea region MPA stretches across more than 2 million square kilometres, making it the largest in the world.

Weddell seal pup and mother
Currently, the world’s largest marine protected area is in the Ross Sea region off Antarctica.
Natasha Gardiner, CC BY-ND

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for this achievement. Unlike other international fisheries management bodies, the commission’s legal convention allows for the closing of marine areas for conservation purposes.

A comparable mandate for MPAs in other areas of the high seas has been nowhere in sight — until now.




Read more:
An ocean like no other: the Southern Ocean’s ecological richness and significance for global climate


A new ocean treaty

In 2017, the UN started negotiations towards a new comprehensive international treaty for the high seas. The treaty aims to improve the conservation and sustainable use of marine organisms in areas beyond national jurisdiction. It would also implement a global legal mechanism to establish MPAs in international waters.

This innovative international agreement provides an opportunity to work across institutional boundaries towards comprehensive high seas governance and protection. It is crucial to use lessons drawn from existing high seas marine protection initiatives, such as those in the Southern Ocean, to inform the treaty’s development.

The final round of treaty negotiations is pending, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and significant detail within the treaty’s draft text remains undeveloped and open for further debate.

Lessons from Southern Ocean management

CCAMLR comprises 26 member states (including the European Union) and meets annually to make conservation-based decisions by unanimous consensus. In 2002, the commission committed to establishing a representative network of MPAs in Antarctica in alignment with globally agreed targets for the world’s oceans.

The two established MPAs in the high seas are far from an ecologically representative network of protection. In October 2020, the commission continued negotiations for three additional MPAs, which would meet the 10% target for the Southern Ocean, if agreed.

But not a single proposal was agreed. For one of the proposals, the East Antarctic MPA, this marks the eighth year of failed negotiations.

Fisheries interests from a select few nations, combined with complex geopolitics, are thwarting progress towards marine protection in the Antarctic.

Map of marine protected areas around Antarctica.
CCAMLR’s two established MPAs (in grey) are the South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA and the Ross Sea region MPA. Three proposed MPAs (hashed) include the East Antarctic, Domain 1 and Weddell Sea proposals.
C. Brooks, CC BY-ND

CCAMLR’s progress towards its commitment for a representative MPA network may have ground to a halt, but the commission has gained invaluable knowledge about the challenges in establishing MPAs in international waters. CCAMLR has demonstrated that with an effective convention and legal framework, MPAs in the high seas are possible.

The commission understands the extent to which robust scientific information must inform MPA proposals and how to navigate inevitable trade-offs between conservation and economic interests. Such knowledge is important for the UN treaty process.




Read more:
Why are talks over an East Antarctic marine park still deadlocked?


As the high seas treaty moves closer to adoption, it stands to outpace the commission regarding progress towards improved marine conservation. Already, researchers have identified high-priority areas for protection in the high seas, including in Antarctica.

Many species cross the Southern Ocean boundary into other regions. This makes it even more important for CCAMLR to integrate its management across regional fisheries organisations – and the new treaty could facilitate this engagement.

But the window of time is closing with only one round of negotiation left for the UN treaty. Research tells us Antarctic decision-makers need to use the opportunity to ensure the treaty supports marine protection commitments.

Stronger Antarctic leadership is urgently needed to safeguard the Southern Ocean — and beyond.The Conversation

Natasha Blaize Gardiner, PhD Candidate, University of Canterbury and Cassandra Brooks, Assistant Professor Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

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

Humans threaten the Antarctic Peninsula’s fragile ecosystem. A marine protected area is long overdue



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Marissa Parrott, University of Melbourne; Carolyn Hogg, University of Sydney; Cassandra Brooks, University of Colorado Boulder; Justine Shaw, The University of Queensland, and Melissa Cristina Márquez, Curtin University

Antarctica, the world’s last true wilderness, has been protected by an international treaty for the last 60 years. But the same isn’t true for most of the ocean surrounding it.

Just 5% of the Southern Ocean is protected, leaving biodiversity hotspots exposed to threats from human activity.




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Antarctica has lost 3 trillion tonnes of ice in 25 years. Time is running out for the frozen continent


The Western Antarctic Peninsula, the northernmost part of the continent and one of its most biodiverse regions, is particularly vulnerable. It faces the cumulative threats of commercial krill fishing, tourism, research infrastructure expansion and climate change.

In an article published in Nature today, we join more than 280 women in STEMM (science, technology, engineering, maths and medicine) from the global leadership initiative Homeward Bound to call for the immediate protection of the peninsula’s marine environment, through the designation of a marine protected area.

Our call comes ahead of a meeting, due in the next fortnight, of the international group responsible for establishing marine protected areas in the Southern Ocean. We urge the group to protect the region, because delays could be disastrous.

Why we must establish a marine protected area around the peninsula, right now. Video: LUMA.

Threats on the peninsula

The Southern Ocean plays a vital role in global food availability and security, regulates the planet’s climate and drives global ocean currents. Ice covering the continent stores 70% of the earth’s freshwater.

Climate change threatens to unravel the Southern Ocean ecosystem as species superbly adapted to the cold struggle to adapt to warmer temperatures. The impacts of climate change are especially insidious on the Western Antarctic Peninsula, one of the fastest-warming places on Earth. In February, temperatures reached a record high: a balmy 20.75℃.




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Anatomy of a heatwave: how Antarctica recorded a 20.75°C day last month


The peninsula is also the most-visited part of Antarctica, thanks to its easy access, dramatic beauty, awe-inspiring wildlife and rich marine ecosystems.

Tourist numbers have doubled in the past decade, increasing the risk of introducing invasive species that hitch a ride on the toursts’ gear. More than 74,000 cruise ship passengers visited last year, up from 33,000 in the 2009-10 season.

Six tourists standing on ice with their backs to the camera
The peninsula is the most visited region in Antarctica.
Shutterstock

The expansion of infrastructure to accommodate scientists and research, such as buildings, roads, fuel storage and runways, can also pose a threat, as it displaces local Antarctic biodiversity.

Eighteen nations have science facilities on the Antarctic Peninsula, the highest concentration of research stations anywhere on the continent. There are 19 permanent and 30 seasonal research bases there.




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Another big threat to biodiversity in the peninsula is the commercial fishing of Antarctic krill, a small, shrimp-like crustacean which is the cornerstone of life in this region.

A cornerstone of life

Krill is a foundation of the food chain in Antarctica, with whales, fish, squid, seals and Adélie and gentoo penguins all feeding on it.

But as sea ice cover diminishes, more industrial fishing vessels can encroach on penguin, seal and whale foraging grounds, effectively acting as a competing super-predator for krill.




Read more:
Climate change threatens Antarctic krill and the sea life that depends on it


In the past 30 years, colonies of Adélie and Chinstrap penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula have declined by more than 50% due to reduced sea ice and krill harvesting.

Commercial Antarctic krill fishing is largely for omega-3 dietary supplements and fish-meal. The fishery in the waters of the Western Antarctic Peninsula is the largest in the Southern Ocean.

Close-up of krill
Krill is a vital part of the food web in Antarctica.
Shutterstock

The krill catch here has more than tripled from 88,800 tonnes in 2000 to almost 400,000 tonnes in 2019 — the third-largest krill catch in history and a volume not seen since the 1980s.

How do we save it?

To save the Antarctic Peninsula, one of critical steps is to protect its waters and its source of life: those tiny, but crucially important, Antarctic krill.

This can be done by establishing a marine protected area (MPA) in the region, which would limit or prohibit human activities such as commercial fishing.




Read more:
Why marine protected areas are often not where they should be


An MPA around the peninsula was first proposed in 2018, covering 670,000 square kilometres. But the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (the organisation responsible for establishing MPAs in the Southern Ocean) has yet to reach agreement on it.

The proposed MPA is an excellent example of balancing environmental protection with commercial interests.


Nature 586: 496-499 22 October 2020, Author provided

The area would be split into two zones. The first is a general protection zone covering 60% of the MPA, designed to protect different habitats and key wildlife and mitigate specific ecosystem threats from fishing.

The second is a krill fishery zone, allowing for a precautionary management approach to commercial fishing and keeping some fishing areas open for access.

The proposed MPA would stand for 70 years, with a review every decade so zones can be adjusted to preserve ecosystems.

No more disastrous delays

The commission is made up of 25 countries and the European Union. In its upcoming meeting, the proposed MPA will once again be considered. Two other important MPA proposals are also on the table in the East Antarctic and Weddell Sea.

A map of the current and proposed Marine Protected Areas under consideration.
A map of the current and proposed marine protected areas under consideration.
Cassandra Brooks, Author provided

In fact, for eight consecutive years, the proposal for a marine park in Eastern Antarctica has failed. Delays like this are potentially disastrous for the fragile ecosystem.

Protecting the peninsula is the most pressing priority due to rising threats, but the commission should adopt all three to fulfil their 2002 commitment to establishing an MPA network in Antarctica.

If all three were established, then more than 3.2 million square kilometres of the Southern Ocean would be protected, giving biodiversity a fighting chance against the compounding threats of human activity in the region.




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Protecting ocean habitats isn’t easy when industries are booming – but can they be part of the solution?


The Conversation


Marissa Parrott, Reproductive Biologist, Wildlife Conservation & Science, Zoos Victoria, and Honorary Research Associate, BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Carolyn Hogg, Senior Research Manager, University of Sydney; Cassandra Brooks, Assistant Professor Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder; Justine Shaw, Conservation Biologist, The University of Queensland, and Melissa Cristina Márquez, PhD Candidate, Curtin University

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

Why marine protected areas are often not where they should be



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Piers Dunstan, CSIRO; Natalie Dowling, CSIRO; Simone Stevenson, Deakin University, and Skipton Woolley, CSIRO

There’s no denying the grandeur and allure of a nature reserve or marine protected area. The concept is easy to understand: limit human activity there and marine ecosystems will thrive.

But while the number of marine protected areas is increasing, so too is the number of threatened species, and the health of marine ecosystems is in decline.

Why? Our research shows it’s because marine protected areas are often placed where there’s already low human activity, rather than in places with high biodiversity that need it most.

Not where they should be

Many parts of the world’s protected areas, in both terrestrial and marine environments, are placed in locations with no form of manageable human activity or development occurring, such as fishing or infrastructure. These places are often remote, such as in the centres of oceans.




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And where marine protected areas have been increasing, they’re placed where pressures cannot be managed, such as areas where there is increased ocean acidification or dispersed pollution.

Limestone islands in the Coral Triangle. The marine protected areas.
Shutterstock

But biodiversity is often highest in the places with human activity – we use these locations in the ocean to generate income and livelihoods, from tourism to fishing. This includes coastal areas in the tropics, such as the Coral Triangle (across six countries including Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia), which has almost 2,000 marine protected areas, yet is also home to one of the largest shipping routes in the world and high fishing activity.




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Why seagrass in Indonesia’s marine protected areas is still under threat


What’s more, many marine industries are already regulated through licences and quotas, so it’s hard to establish a new marine protected area that adds a different type of management on top of what already exists.

This leaves us with an important paradox: the places where biodiversity is under the most pressure are also the places humanity is most reluctant to relinquish, due to their social or economic value. Because of those values, people and industry resist changes to behaviour, leaving governments to try to find solutions that avoid conflict.

Lessons from the fishing industry

How can we resolve the paradox of marine protected areas? A strategy used in the fishing industry may show the way.

Fisheries have had experience in going beyond the limits of sustainability and then stepping back, changing their approach to managing species and ecosystems for better sustainability, while still protecting economic, social and environmental values.




Read more:
Marine parks and fishery management: what’s the best way to protect fish?


In the past, many of the world’s fisheries regularly exceeded the sustainable limit of catches, and many species such as southern bluefin tuna declined significantly in number. But strong rules around how a fishery should operate mean declines have since been reversed.

Changes to fishery management have reversed population declines in southern bluefin tuna.
Shutterstock

So how did they do it? In recent decades, many of the world’s large-scale fisheries implemented formal “harvest strategies”. These strategies can flip downward trends of marine species in places not designated a marine protected area.

Harvest strategies have three steps. First is pre-agreed monitoring of species and ecosystems by fishers, regulators and other stakeholders. Second, regulators and scientists assess their impact on the species and ecosystems. And last, all stakeholders agree to put management measures in place to improve the status of the monitored species and ecosystems.

These measures may include changing how fishing is done or how much is done. It’s a commonsense strategy that’s delivered successful results with many fished species either recovering or recovered.




Read more:
Protecting not-so-wild places helps biodiversity


In Australia, the federal government introduced a formal harvest strategy policy to manage fisheries in 2007. It was evaluated in 2014, and the report found many (but not all) fish stocks are no longer overfished. This includes species such as orange roughy and southern bluefin tuna in Australia, which were overfished but are no longer so.

But unfortunately, this positive trend has not been replicated for biodiversity hit by the combinations of other human activities such as coastal development, transport, oil and gas extraction and marine debris.

A consistent strategy

We need to adapt the experience from fisheries and apply a single, formal, transparent and agreed biodiversity strategy that outlines sustainable management objectives for the places we can’t put marine protected areas.

This would look like a harvest strategy, but be applied more broadly to threatened species and ecosystems. What might be sustainable from a single species point of view as used in the fisheries might not sustainable for multiple species.




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This would mean for our threatened species, we would be monitoring their status, assessing whether the total population was changing and agreeing on when and how we would change the way that they are impacted.

Such a strategy would also allow monitoring of whole marine ecosystems, even when information is limited. Information on trends in species and ecosystems often exists, but is hidden as commercial-in-confidence or kept privately within government, research or commercial organisations.

Looking ahead

Still, a lack of data shouldn’t limit decision making. Experience in fisheries without much data shows even rules of thumb can be effective management tools. Rules of thumb can include simple measures like gear restrictions or spatial or temporal closures that don’t change through time.

Moving forward, all stakeholders need to agree to implement the key parts of harvest strategies for all marine places with high biodiversity that aren’t protected. This will complement existing marine protected area networks without limiting economic activity, while also delivering social and environmental outcomes that support human well-being.

Our marine ecosystems provide fish, enjoyment, resources and and simple beauty. They must survive for generations to come.The Conversation

Piers Dunstan, Principal Research Scientist, CSIRO; Natalie Dowling, Researcher, CSIRO; Simone Stevenson, PhD Candidate, Deakin University, and Skipton Woolley, Research scientist, CSIRO

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

No-take marine areas help fishers (and fish) far more than we thought



A juvenile Plectropomus leopardus from the Whitsundays.
David Williamson/James Cook University

Dustin Marshall, Monash University and Liz Morris, Monash University

One hectare of ocean in which fishing is not allowed (a marine protected area) produces at least five times the amount of fish as an equivalent unprotected hectare, according to new research published today.

This outsized effect means marine protected areas, or MPAs, are more valuable than we previously thought for conservation and increasing fishing catches in nearby areas.

Previous research has found the number of offspring from a fish increases exponentially as they grow larger, a disparity that had not been taken into account in earlier modelling of fish populations. By revising this basic assumption, the true value of MPAs is clearer.




Read more:
Protecting not-so-wild places helps biodiversity


Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas are ocean areas where human activity is restricted and at their best are “no take” zones, where removing animals and plants is banned. Fish populations within these areas can grow with limited human interference and potentially “spill-over” to replenish fished populations outside.

Obviously MPAs are designed to protect ecological communities, but scientists have long hoped they can play another role: contributing to the replenishment and maintenance of species that are targeted by fisheries.

Wild fisheries globally are under intense pressure and the size fish catches have levelled off or declined despite an ever-increasing fishing effort.

Yet fishers remain sceptical that any spillover will offset the loss of fishing grounds, and the role of MPAs in fisheries remains contentious. A key issue is the number of offspring that fish inside MPAs produce. If their fecundity is similar to that of fish outside the MPA, then obviously there will be no benefit and only costs to fishers.




Read more:
More fish, more fishing: why strategic marine park placement is a win-win


Big fish have far more babies

Traditional models assume that fish reproductive output is proportional to mass, that is, doubling the mass of a fish doubles its reproductive output. Thus, the size of fish within a population is assumed to be less important than the total biomass when calculating population growth.

But a paper recently published in Science demonstrated this assumption is incorrect for 95% of fish species: larger fish actually have disproportionately higher reproductive outputs. That means doubling a fish’s mass more than doubles its reproductive output.

When we feed this newly revised assumption into models of fish reproduction, predictions about the value of MPAs change dramatically.


Author provided

Fish are, on average, 25% longer inside protected areas than outside. This doesn’t sound like much, but it translates into a big difference in reproductive output – an MPA fish produces almost 3 times more offspring on average. This, coupled with higher fish populations because of the no-take rule means MPAs produce between 5 and 200 times (depending on the species) more offspring per unit area than unprotected areas.

Put another way, one hectare of MPA is worth at least 5 hectares of unprotected area in terms of the number of offspring produced.

We have to remember though, just because MPAs produce disproportionately more offspring it doesn’t necessarily mean they enhance fisheries yields.

For protected areas to increase catch sizes, offspring need to move to fished areas. To calculate fisheries yields, we need to model – among other things – larval dispersal between protected and unprotected areas. This information is only available for a few species.

We explored the consequences of disproportionate reproduction for fisheries yields with and without MPAs for one iconic fish, the coral trout on the Great Barrier Reef. This is one of the few species for which we had data for most of the key parameters, including decent estimates of larval dispersal and how connected different populations are.

No-take protected areas increased the amount of common coral trout caught in nearby areas by 12%.
Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble/Flickr, CC BY

We found MPAs do in fact enhance yields to fisheries when disproportionate reproduction is included in relatively realistic models of fish populations. For the coral trout, we saw a roughly 12% increase in tonnes of caught fish.

There are two lessons here. First, a fivefold increase in the production of eggs inside MPAs results in only modest increases in yield. This is because limited dispersal and higher death rates in the protected areas dampen the benefits.




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However the exciting second lesson is these results suggest MPAs are not in conflict with the interests of fishers, as is often argued.

While MPAs restrict access to an entire population of fish, fishers still benefit from from their disproportionate affect on fish numbers. MPAs are a rare win-win strategy.

It’s unclear whether our results will hold for all species. What’s more, these effects rely on strict no-take rules being well-enforced, otherwise the essential differences in the sizes of fish will never be established.

We think that the value of MPAs as a fisheries management tool has been systematically underestimated. Including disproportionate reproduction in our assessments of MPAs should correct this view and partly resolve the debate about their value. Well-designed networks of MPAs could increase much-needed yields from wild-caught fish.The Conversation

Dustin Marshall, Professor, Marine Evolutionary Ecology, Monash University and Liz Morris, Administration Manager, Monash University

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

More fish, more fishing: why strategic marine park placement is a win-win



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Marine parks are good for fish – especially if they’re in the right areas.
Epstock/Shutterstock

Kerstin Jantke, University of Hamburg; Alienor Chauvenet, Griffith University; Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland; James Allan, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland, and Kendall Jones, The University of Queensland

Australia has some of the most spectacular marine ecosystems on the planet – including, of course, the world-famous Great Barrier Reef. Many of these places are safe in protected areas, and support a myriad of leisure activities such as recreational fishing, diving and surfing. No wonder eight in ten Aussies live near the beach.

Yet threats to marine ecosystems are becoming more intense and widespread the world over. New maps show that only 13% of the oceans are still truly wild. Industrial fishing now covers an area four times that of agriculture, including the farthest reaches of international waters. Marine protected areas that restrict harmful activities are some of the last places where marine species can escape. They also support healthy fisheries and increase the ability of coral reefs to resist bleaching.




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Most recreational fishers in Australia support marine sanctuaries


One hundred and ninety-six nations, including Australia, agreed to international conservation targets under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. One target calls for nations to protect at least 10% of the world’s oceans. An important but often overlooked aspect of this target is the requirement to protect a portion of each of Earth’s unique marine ecosystems.

How are we tracking?

The world is on course to achieve the 10% target by 2020, with more than 7.5% of the ocean already protected. However, our research shows that many marine protected areas are located poorly, leaving many ecosystems underprotected or not protected at all.

What’s more, this inefficient placement of marine parks has an unnecessary impact on fishers. While marine reserves typically improve fisheries’ profitability in the long run, they need to be placed in the most effective locations.

We found that since 1982, the year nations first agreed on international conservation targets, an area of the ocean almost three times the size of Australia has been designated as protected areas in national waters. This is an impressive 20-fold increase on the amount of protection that was in place beforehand.

But when we looked at specific marine ecosystems, we found that half of them fall short of the target level of protection, and that ten ecosystems are entirely unprotected. For example, the Guinea Current off the tropical West African coast has no marine protected areas, and thus nowhere for its wildlife to exist free from human pressure. Other unprotected ecosystems include the Malvinas Current off the southeast coast of South America, Southeast Madagascar, and the North Pacific Transitional off Canada’s west coast.

Marine park coverage of global ecosystems. Light grey: more than 10% protection; dark grey: less than 10% protection; red: zero protection.
Author provided

Australia performs comparatively well, with more than 3 million square km of marine reserves covering 41% of its national waters. Australia’s Coral Sea Marine Park is one of the largest marine protected areas in the world, at 1 million km². However, a recent study by our research group found that several unique ecosystems in Australia’s northern and eastern waters are lacking protection.

Furthermore, the federal government’s plan to halve the area of strict “no-take” protection inside marine parks does not bode well for the future.

How much better can we do?

To assess the scope for improvement to the world’s marine parks, we predicted how the protected area network could have been expanded from 1982.

With a bit more strategic planning since 1982, the world would only need to conserve 10% of national waters to protect all marine ecosystems at the 10% level. If we had planned strategically from as recently as 2011, we would only need to conserve 13% of national waters. If we plan strategically from now on, we will need to protect more than 16% of national waters.

If nations had planned strategically since 1982, the world’s marine protected area network could be a third smaller than today, cost half as much, and still meet the international target of protecting 10% of every ecosystem. In other words, we could have much more comprehensive and less costly marine protection today if planning had been more strategic over the past few decades.

The lack of strategic planning in previous marine park expansions is a lost opportunity for conservation. We could have met international conservation targets long ago, with far lower costs to people – measured in terms of a short-term loss of fishing catch inside new protected areas.

This is not to discount the progress made in marine conservation over the past three decades. The massive increase of marine protected areas, from a few sites in 1982, to more than 3 million km² today, is one of Australia’s greatest conservation success stories. However, it is important to recognise where we could have done better, so we can improve in the future.

Australia’s marine park network.
Author provided

This is also not to discount protected areas. They are important but can be placed better. Furthermore, long-term increases in fish populations often outweigh the short-term cost to fisheries of no-take protected areas.

Two steps to get back on track

In 2020, nations will negotiate new conservation targets for 2020-30 at a UN summit in China. Targets are expected to increase above the current 10% of every nation’s marine area.

We urge governments to rigorously assess their progress towards conservation targets so far. When the targets increase, we suggest they take a tactical approach from the outset. This will deliver better outcomes for nature conservation, and have less short-term impact on the fishing industry.




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More than 1,200 scientists urge rethink on Australia’s marine park plans


Strategic planning is only one prerequisite for marine protected areas to effectively protect unique and threatened species, habitats and ecosystems. Governments also need to ensure protected areas are well funded and properly managed.

These steps will give protected areas the best shot at halting the threats driving species to extinction and ecosystems to collapse. It also means these incredible places will remain available for us and future generations to enjoy.The Conversation

Kerstin Jantke, Postdoctoral Researcher on conservation biology, University of Hamburg; Alienor Chauvenet, Lecturer, Griffith University; Hugh Possingham, Professor, The University of Queensland; James Allan, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland, and Kendall Jones, PhD candidate, Geography, Planning and Environmental Management, The University of Queensland

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

Most recreational fishers in Australia support marine sanctuaries


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Recreational fishers adjacent to an established marine park in NSW.
Author provided

Matt Navarro, University of Western Australia; Marit E. Kragt, and Tim Langlois, University of Western Australia

More than 70% of recreational fishers support no-take marine sanctuaries according to our research, published recently in Marine Policy.

This study contradicts the popular perception that fishers are against establishing no-take marine reserves to protect marine life. In fact, the vast majority of fishers we surveyed agreed that no-take sanctuaries improve marine environmental values, and do not impair their fishing.




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More than 1,200 scientists urge rethink on Australia’s marine park plans


No-take marine sanctuaries, which ban taking or disturbing any marine life, are widely recognised as vital for conservation. However, recent media coverage and policy decisions in Australia suggest recreational fishers are opposed to no-take sanctuary zones created within marine parks.

This perceived opposition has been reinforced by recreational fishing interest groups who aim to represent fishers’ opinions in policy decisions. However, it was unclear whether the opinions expressed by these groups matches those of fishers on-the-ground in established marine parks.

To answer this, we visited ten state-managed marine parks across Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. We spoke to 778 fishers at boat ramps that were launching or retrieving their boats to investigate their attitudes towards no-take sanctuary zones.

Our findings debunk the myth that recreational fishers oppose marine sanctuaries. We found 72% of active recreational fishers in established marine parks (more than 10 years old) support their no-take marine sanctuaries. Only 9% were opposed, and the remainder were neutral.

We also found that support rapidly increases (and opposition rapidly decreases) after no-take marine sanctuaries are established, suggesting that once fishers have a chance to experience sanctuaries, they come to support them.

Recreational fishers support for marine sanctuaries increases with marine park age.

Fishers in established marine parks were also overwhelmingly positive towards marine sanctuaries. Most thought no-take marine sanctuaries benefited the marine environment (78%) and have no negative impacts on their fishing (73%).

We argue that recreational fishers, much like other Australians, support no-take marine sanctuaries because of the perceived environmental benefits they provide. This is perhaps not surprising, considering that appreciating nature is one of the primary reasons many people go fishing in the first place.

Exploring marine life within an established marine park.
Tim Langlois

In the past opposition from recreational fishing groups has been cited in the decision to scrap proposed no-take sanctuaries around Sydney, to open up established no-take sanctuaries to fishing and to reduce sanctuaries within the Australia Marine Parks (formerly the Commonwealth Marine Reserve network).

Our findings suggest that these policy decisions do not reflect the beliefs of the wider recreational fishing community, but instead represent the loud voices of a minority.

We suggest that recreational fishing groups and policy makers should survey grass roots recreational fishing communities (and other people who use marine parks) to gauge the true level of support for no-take marine sanctuaries, before any decisions are made.




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The backflip over Sydney’s marine park is a defiance of science


Despite what headlines may say, no-take marine sanctuaries are unlikely to face long lasting opposition from recreational fishers. Instead, our research suggests no-take marine sanctuaries provide a win-win: protecting marine life whilst fostering long term support within the recreational fishing community.The Conversation

Matt Navarro, Post-doctoral Fellow, University of Western Australia; Marit E. Kragt, Senior Lecture in Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Tim Langlois, Research Fellow, University of Western Australia

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

The backflip over Sydney’s marine park is a defiance of science



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Sydney’s iconic beaches are not yet part of a marine park.
John Turnbull

David Booth, University of Technology Sydney and John Turnbull, UNSW

The New South Wales government’s decision to back away from establishing no-fishing zones in waters around Sydney leaves significant question marks over the plan, which is open for public consultation until September 27.

Fisheries Minister Niall Blair explained the apparent backflip by saying he was “confident that fishing is not the key threat to the sustainability of our marine environment”, after receiving what he described as “robust” feedback from local communities and anglers.

The original plans for Sydney’s marine park. Click image to enlarge.
NSW government

The originally proposed Sydney Marine Park comprised 17 “sanctuary zones” (totalling 2.4% of the area, including estuaries), 3 “conservation zones” totalling 2.6%, and 21 “special purpose zones”, which would allow (and in some cases protect) fishing.

Sanctuary zones allow no fishing; conservation zones allow taking of lobster and abalone (see below); and special purpose zones have a range of restrictions or allowances, not necessarily of any conservation benefit. For instance, four offshore artificial reefs are classed as special purpose zones.

The plans cover the waters around Sydney, stretching from Newcastle in the north to Wollongong in the south. Formally known as the Hawkesbury Shelf marine bioregion, it is the only bioregion wholly in NSW that does not have a marine park. This is despite Sydney’s magnificent array of underwater and coastal habitats, which are home to more fish species than the entire British Isles.




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Recreational fishing in marine parks: you can’t be serious!


New zones and ranked threats

The original marine park proposal was far from ideal. A good marine park should have a string of closely connected sanctuary zones, but there was a large gap from southern Sydney to Wollongong where no sanctuary zones were proposed.

Instead, there was a new “conservation zone” to allow fishing for lobster and abalone. Yet lobster in particular are important to this ecosystem, because they protect kelp by preying on sea urchins.

Threats to the marine region around Sydney, as ranked in a NSW government report. Click image to enlarge.
NSW government

The NSW government based its earlier proposal on a principle called TARA, short for “threat and risk assessment”, in which all perceived factors are ranked according to their environmental, social and economic outcomes.

While other major threats such as climate change and pollution are ranked highly, fishing doesn’t appear until number 18 on the government’s list (see page 8 here. One reason for this is that fishing is split into eight categories (such as “recreational fishing by boat – line and trap”), masking its overall impact. Even 4WDs on beaches are ranked as a greater threat to the environment than many types of fishing.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s press release about the marine park public consultation didn’t mention the environmental threat posed by fishing at all. Yet there is clear evidence that fishing directly harms fish stocks.

One recent study shows that stocks of inshore fish species have declined in Australia by 30% in a decade, except in sanctuary zones. Worldwide, sanctuary zones (also called no-take zones) have been shown to help fish grow larger and more abundant. And recent studies in NSW coastal waters have reiterated the benefits of no-take zones for species such as morwong, bream, and snapper.

Partial protection doesn’t work

The latest proposals, which would allow recreational but not commercial fishing, would be much less effective than full protection. One recent study suggested that partial protection is no better than no protection at all.

According to a NSW government estimate, recreational fishing removes more than 3 million fish, crustaceans and molluscs from NSW coastal waters every year. But marine parks are primarily about conservation, and this requires us to face some stark realities. With more than 8 million people likely to call Sydney home in the next 40 years, pressures on our coasts will only increase.

Sanctuary zones are one of the best available conservation tools to guard against these impacts. These zones have also been shown to make wildlife more resilient to climate change.

Even before the government’s decision to rescind the proposed sanctuary zones, the original plan for no-take zones to cover just 2.4% of the region was a severe compromise. By comparison, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has 30% sanctuary zone coverage, and the rest of NSW has 7-8%. International best practice recommends at least 20%, and even the Commonwealth Marine Reserves Management Plan offers 6% no-take coverage.

But now, with no sanctuary zones, Sydney’s proposed “marine park” is not worthy of the name.

Wrong priorities

A peculiar contradiction is that despite one-quarter of the listed threats being fishing-related, the NSW government’s marine estate management strategy includes an initiative to encourage fishing. Pollution is also a high-priority threat, and fishing is the largest source of subtidal debris.

Kelp and a tangle of discarded fishing line.
John Turnbull

If local-level threats such as fishing and litter are not dealt with, resilience to climate change suffers as a result. We must tackle all threats – overfishing, pollution, climate change – and not shy away from one because it’s politically unpalatable.




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Marine parks for fish and people: here’s how to do it


It is frustrating that the NSW government has opted to abolish these marine sanctuaries before the public consultation was complete. The wider public understands the value of sanctuary zones, as indicated in recent opinion polls showing clear support for the original plans among Sydneysiders – even many of those who fish.

Some fishers are now calling for sanctuary zones to be scrapped or wound back in other iconic NSW marine parks, such as Lord Howe Island and Solitary Islands. This move would be a defiance of the science. The evidence shows that sanctuary zones are essential for restoring and preserving our marine estate for future generations.The Conversation

David Booth, Professor of Marine Ecology, University of Technology Sydney and John Turnbull, , UNSW

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