Sint Maarten – MPA Design

The Establishment of Man of Shoals Marine Park in Sint Maarten, Caribbean

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, West Indies

Coral reef in St. Maarten. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

Coral reef in St. Maarten. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

The Challenge
The island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, in the West Indies, is divided between the French Saint Martin in the North (53 km2) and the Dutch Sint Maarten in the South (34 km2). St. Maarten is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island is surrounded by about 20 km2 of coral reefs.

St. Maarten experienced its first tourism boom starting in the 1960s, when Cuba was first closed to tourism. St. Maarten is now one of the largest tourism hubs in the West Indies with about 85% of its workforce employed in tourism or tourism-related industries. There is no large-scale commercial fishery, only 10-15 artisanal fishers and recreational fishing for marlin (Makaira spp.) and mahi-mahi (Coryphaena spp.).

Until recently, there was little government management of the marine environment in St. Maarten. In 1997, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten was established in order to set up and manage a marine park in St. Maarten, under contract from the St. Maarten government. St. Maarten was the only country in the Dutch Caribbean that did not have a marine park, therefore the proposal aimed to achieve parity between St. Maarten and the other states of the Dutch Caribbean. The proposed park’s design was based on the design of a marine protected area in Bonaire. However, this design was too extensive (it would have included all of St. Maarten’s territorial waters) and too complicated to gain political support. The interests of the cruise ship industry, fishers, and dive shop operators made this challenging for politicians in St. Maarten. Furthermore, while Bonaire’s protected area had a staff of 54, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten had only three people on staff. The park remained an entity only on paper until 2010.

St. Maarten’s reefs have incurred long-term degradation due to the rapid growth of tourism and poor urban planning and infrastructure and lack of watershed management. Hurricanes and mass coral bleaching events have led to an 80% reduction in coral cover in the near-shore environment.

Staff monitoring in Man of Shoals Marine Park. © Mauricio Handler/ DCNA/ NPL

Staff monitoring in Man of Shoals Marine Park. © Mauricio Handler/ DCNA/ NPL

Actions Taken
In 2010, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten was officially reactivated to create a well-managed marine park, with a strict no-take area to address increasing threats. The Foundation took a three-pronged approach to get support from decision makers on marine park establishment. First, the Foundation did an ecological assessment of St. Maarten’s reefs. This baseline study pinpointed specific areas – the country’s remaining healthy reefs – as a high priority for conservation. They redesigned the proposed park so that it would protect just those areas – representing 25% of the country’s territorial waters, and covering 10,000 hectares.

Next, an economic valuation study of the marine ecosystem was completed using a method from the World Resources Institute. This quick-and-dirty method was designed to be easy-to-use by managers. By interviewing dive shop owners, fishers, tourists and other tourism industry stakeholders, the study was able to paint a compelling picture of the importance of a healthy marine ecosystem to St. Maarten’s economy.

Finally, the Nature Foundation St. Maarten took the results from both the ecological assessment and economic valuation study to the community to make their case for the marine park. The Foundation made presentations at community meetings, talked with fishermen and dive operators, and presented to Parliament. On December 30, 2010, the Man of Shoals Marine Park was established.

One of the first steps for the marine park was the design of a mooring system for dive boats to prevent further damage from anchoring directly on the reef. Prior to and during the establishment of the marine park, the foundation conducted wide-scale outreach to explain why anchors damage the reef. Following the establishment of the park, small businesses in St. Maarten paid for the construction of a mooring system drilled into the substrate.


Hawksbill turtle. © Nature Foundation St. Maarten

In the near future, the Foundation hopes to expand the park to 35,000 hectares, which will make it continuous with a park on the French side of the island. Because the current boundaries of the park include the parts of the reef that were best for fishing and diving, those areas with the calmest waters and the healthiest reefs, the expansion is an easier case to make, since it will include choppier waters that are used less for fishing and diving.

How successful has it been?
The Foundation has documented an increase in the populations in certain species of fish through yearly surveys. In 2013, they found that grouper and snapper populations have rebounded, showing a 10-15% increase and fishers are reporting increased catch. The Foundation has begun staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) nurseries and they hope to transplant these stocks to areas with high water quality to quicken the reef’s recovery.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Stakeholder involvement is key. Involving stakeholders and the local community is key to achieving conservation goals. The Foundation went to community groups and community council meetings and gave short and simple presentations. Instead of following these presentations with a traditional question-and-answer session, the Foundation personnel solicited feedback from everyone. By making these sessions informal, they were able to talk and listen to people, and therefore more effectively communicate with community members in a manner that was more comfortable for them.
  • Economic valuation of ecosystems is a powerful, persuasive tool. While it can be controversial, it helped make the case for conservation by showing the economic benefits of ecosystem services which was an effective way to reach key decision makers.
  • Effective communication should be a priority. Communicating the importance of conservation can be challenging, but to get political and popular support for conservation, scientists must do so through all the means available (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and traditional media).

Lead Organization
Nature Foundation St. Maarten

Partner Organization
Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance

Funding Summary
Prince Bernhard Nature Fund
U.S. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Caribbean Environment Program, United Nations Environment Program
World Wildlife Fund Netherlands
Implementing Organization of the Foundation for the Development of the Netherlands Antilles (USONA)
MINA Fund Netherlands Antilles
KNAP Fund Netherlands Antilles
The INNO Fund
Bunchies Garage & Trucking NV
Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA)
St. Maarten Harbour Holding Company (SHHC)
St. Maarten Tourist Office
Dutch National Postcode Lottery
SOL Antilles

The Government of Sint Maarten

Coastal Capital: Ecosystem Valuation for Decision Making in the Caribbean, World Resources Institute

Written by: Tadzio Bervoets, Nature Foundation St. Maarten, Sint Maarten

This case study was adapted from: Cullman, G. (ed.) 2014. Resilience Sourcebook: Case studies of social-ecological resilience in island systems. Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Designing Marine Reserves for Fisheries Management, Biodiversity Conservation, and Climate Change Adaptation

Coral reef ecosystem goods and services, such as fisheries, are threatened by local and global stressors. Effectively designed and managed marine reserve networks (areas closed to all extractive uses) can reduce local threats and build resilience of coral reefs. This paper reviews recent scientific advances in criteria for designing marine reserve networks to achieve multiple objectives such as fisheries management, conservation, and climate change adaptation. The authors provide integrated guidelines regarding habitat representation, risk spreading, protecting critical habitat, incorporating connectivity, allowing time for recovery, adapting to changes in climate, and minimizing local threats. Integration of marine reserve networks into broader management frameworks is also stressed. Although the guidelines were written for the Coral Triangle region, they can be applied to coral reefs worldwide.

Ecological considerations and guidelines for marine reserve design outlined in the paper include:
Habitat representation: protect 20-40% of each major habitat
Risk spreading: protect at least 3 examples of each major habitat and spread them out
Critical areas: protect critical areas such as fish spawning aggregations, nursery, nesting, breeding, and feeding areas
Incorporating connectivity: apply minimum and variable sizes, 0.5-1 km and 5-20 km across, space reserves 1-15 km apart with smaller reserves closer together
Allowing time for recovery: put reserves in place for 20-40 years or permanently, use periodic closures in addition to long-term protection
Adapting to changes in climate: protect refugia of more resilient habitats
Minimizing local threats: place reserves in areas less likely to be impacted by local threats such as land-based pollution

Author: Green, A.L., L. Fernandes, G. Almany, R. Abesamis, E. McLeod, P.M. Aliño, A.T. White, R. Salm, J. Tanzer, and R.L. Pressey 
Year: 2014
View Abstract
Email for the full article:

Coastal Management 42(2): 143-159. doi:10.1080/08920753.2014.877763

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Indonesia – MPA Design

Building Resilience into Large-scale Marine Protected Area Networks in the Global Center of Marine Biodiversity

Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia

Misool. © Dwi Wibowo/TNC

The Challenge
Raja Ampat (“Four Kings”), off the northwestern tip of West Papua Province in Indonesia, includes the four large islands of Waigeo, Batanta, Salawati, and Misool and hundreds of smaller islands. This region encompasses over four million hectares of land and sea in the heart of the ‘Coral Triangle’, an area with the world’s highest coral reef biodiversity. The archipelago is estimated to harbor over 75% of the world’s coral species. At least 553 species of scleractinian corals are known in Raja Ampat, and soft coral diversity is also very high. Raja Ampat also has one of the world’s richest coral reef fish fauna at least 1,437 species. The islands encompass intact forests and functional coral reefs, often separated by only meters. It is unusual to find such ‘ridge to reef’ ecosystem integrity in Indonesia.

Oceanographically and biogeographically, the Raja Ampat islands lie at the entrance of the Indonesian Through-flow from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean. While patterns of ocean currents in the area are complex, present data indicate a strong likelihood that the Raja Ampat reefs function as an unparalleled source of larvae to reefs throughout the region. The diversity of habitats and reef conditions in the Raja Ampat islands is the primary reason for the outstanding species diversity encountered in the area.

Raja Ampat Case Study (2:22)

Lucas Rumetna and Purwanto of The Nature Conservancy describe how TNC, partners, and local communities are designing and implementing a resilient MPA network in Raja Ampat.

Actions Taken
The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has been working in Raja Ampat since 2003. The current integrated conservation program at Raja Ampat includes a joint work plan between TNC, Conservation International (CI), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Indonesia. The collaborative vision is to establish and implement a network of resilient MPAs throughout the Bird’s Head Seascape in West Papua, in collaboration with provincial and regency governments, local NGOs, local communities, private sector, and other relevant stakeholders. The primary objective of TNC’s conservation work in Raja Ampat is to establish two effectively managed Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Kofiau and Misool, which will form the basis for establishing a resilient network of collaboratively-managed MPA network in Raja Ampat and the wider Bird’s Head Seascape.

TNC, CI, and WWF have committed to the joint objective of the adoption of sustainable planning and ecosystem-based management practices by the two provincial and fourteen city/regency governments in the Bird’s Head Seascape. The goal is to implement a network of ecologically-connected MPAs that together include sufficient “no-take zones” to include 20-30% of the critical coral reef habitats within these MPAs to all forms of exploitation, in order to ensure the long-term food security of the Papuan coastal communities.

Resilience is a key aspect of the work done in Raja Ampat and Bird’s Head Seascape, and specific resilience strategies have been part of the management and planning, including:

  • Designing an effective network of 12 MPAs across the Bird’s Head Seascape, to protect a diversity of species, habitats and ecosystem services;
  • Incorporating principles of resilience into the design zoning plans for MPA in the Raja Ampat MPA network, including the identification and inclusion of specific features such as areas of upwelling, shallow lagoons and high current areas;
  • Designing biological and socioeconomic objectives and criteria at the individual MPA level during the zoning process that take into consideration potential future impacts from climate change;
  • Applying IUCN’s Resilience Assessment of Coral Reefs at the Kofiau and Misool MPAs, to identify areas that may have a higher resilience to future stresses and disturbance, and incorporating this into the final MPA design; and
  • Applying ecosystem-based management principles to MPA network planning and management, and embedding the network in larger government-led spatial planning processes throughout the Bird’s Head Seascape.
Bird's Head Seascape MPAs. © Wen Wen/TNC

Bird’s Head Seascape MPAs. © Wen Wen/TNC

An ecosystem-based management approach was being applied to the development of zoning plans for the Raja Ampat MPA network. The TNC Indonesia Marine Program and Global Marine Team partnered with Conservation International and the University of Queensland to use decision support tools to support the zoning of the MPA network. This project brought together all available information on conservation features, resource use patterns and threats into a decision analysis framework to help design zoning plans for the network of MPAs in Raja Ampat. Information was included from a 5 year interdisciplinary Ecosystem-Based Management science program that produced 18 studies covering a range of disciplines, including physical oceanography, ecology, fisheries, environmental economics, social science, political science and anthropology. Decision support tools (Marxan with zones) helped ensure the planning process takes into account the contribution of each MPA to the network, and the relationships between processes occurring at each site and the overall Raja Ampat ecosystem (i.e. different MPAs will provide different ecosystem services to the network and have representation of different habitat types, fisheries etc.). By mapping patterns in resource use across the MPA network, stakeholder use and their interests are spatially represented, particularly artisanal fishers that rely on access to marine resources critical to their subsistence and livelihoods.

Fishing in Raja Ampat. © Mohammad Syakir/TNC

Three expeditions were completed by leading local scientists and managers in the region to assess coral reef resilience at Kofiau and Misool MPAs, using the protocol designed by IUCN. In addition to general reef health monitoring, data was collected on fish biomass, coral recruitment, algae cover, coral community structure and composition, coral diseases, and coral bleaching. The team also teased apart the factors that are “theorized” to convey reef resilience. Preliminary results suggest that coral reefs in Raja Ampat vary in terms of their resilience potential with herbivore biomass and differences in coral community structure driving differences in resilience rankings for individual sites. Sites that had a higher resilience score were included, to the greatest extent possible, within no-take zones. Areas with lower scores, but where management actions or intervention could significantly improve resilience were identified.

How Successful has it been?
Communities traditionally declared their zoning plans at Kofiau and Misool in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Resource use monitoring has documented a significant decline in destructive fishing in all of the MPAs in the network. No-take zones that are actively being enforced are already showing signs of recovery of fish biomass, and coral communities continue to remain steady and are flourishing.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Strong tri-partnership, collaboration and joint-vision, goal and objective between the international NGOs TNC, Conservation International and WWF helped to design and implement an effective network of resilient network of MPAs at a Seascape scale by pooling resources where possible, ensuring lessons learned were shared across sites and organizations.
  • Significant time and resources invested in community participatory processes and resulted in local communities being actively involved in the declaration of MPAs and the design of zoning plans, and traditional management systems were integral in the final design. This meant that communities were generally more receptive to adjustments to zones once their primary socioeconomic criteria and considerations were addressed. This, in turn, generated a greater sense of environmental stewardship and communities were then more open to identifying no take zones and adopting more sustainable harvesting practices.
  • It was important to collect comprehensive biological, biophysical and socioeconomic datasets to adequately understand and characterize the MPAs, and incorporate this information into the final design of zoning plans. Socioeconomic datasets in particular were invaluable for understanding resource use, traditional management systems in place, and community relationships with their natural resources.
  • Effective design is being achieved by using principles of ecosystem based management and decision-support tools to zone the seven MPAs in Raja Ampat as a network, rather than on an individual MPA basis.

Funding Summary
Walton Family Foundation
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation – Science Program
Private donors

Lead Organization
The Nature Conservancy
Indonesia Marine Program

Conservation International
WWF Indonesia
Raja Ampat Government

Herbivorous reef fishes critical for long-term coral reef health and resilience

Conservation Blog: Expedition to the Raja Ampat Islands

Bird’s Head EBM Factsheets (pdf)
Raja Ampat Factsheet (pdf)

Reef fishes of the Bird’s Head Peninsula, West Papua, Indonesia (pdf, 4M)

Assessing coral resilience and bleaching impacts in the Indonesian archipelago (pdf, 1.7M)

Designing marine protected area networks to address the impacts of climate change (pdf, 636k)

Resilience Assessment of coral reefs – Assessment protocol for coral reefs, focusing on coral bleaching and thermal stress (pdf, 4.8M)

Delineating the Coral Triangle (pdf, 385k)

Achieving the triple bottom line: inherent tradeoffs among social equity, economic return and conservation (pdf, 814k)

Achieving fisheries and conservation objectives within marine protected areas: zoning the Raja Ampat network (pdf, 6.4M)

Designing a resilient network of marine protected areas for Kimbe Bay, Papua New Guinea

A comparison of zoning analyses to inform the planning of a marine protected area network in Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Papua Bird’s Head Seascape: Emerging threats and challenges in the global center of marine biodiversity

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Micronesia – MPA Design

Designing a Marine Protected Area Network in the Federated States of Micronesia

Kosrae and Yap, Federated States of Micronesia 

The Challenge
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) is comprised of 4 states (YapChuukPohnpei, and Kosrae) and includes 607 islands spread over 1 million mi2 of the western Pacific Ocean. Its coral reefs, estimated at 14,517 km2 are home to nearly 1000 species of fish and over 350 hard species of coral. The majority of people living on these small islands depend on natural resources for their food, livelihoods, and traditions. These resources are threatened by pressure from rapid population growth, overharvest, habitat destruction, changing cultural practices, invasive species and climate change. Over the last two decades, this area has experienced at least two highly destructive typhoons (i.e., 1990 in Pohnpei and 2004 in Chuuk and Yap), as well as some bleaching, with limited mortality (e.g., 1998 20% bleaching in Yap and 2004 minor bleaching in Kosrae and Pohnpei).

Actions Taken
Pohnpei has several MPAs which were established by state law in 1999 and 2001. In 2003, the FSM completed a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP), with the goal of protecting and sustainably managing a full representation of the country’s marine, freshwater, and terrestrial ecosystems. The government of the FSM, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), university scientists, and local experts also drafted “A blueprint for conserving the biodiversity of the Federated States of Micronesia” (the FSM blueprint) in order to begin to address this goal. A total number of 130 areas of biodiversity significance (ABS), including 86 coastal and marine sites comprising 260,948 ha (over 1,007 mi2), were identified nationwide.

DeVantier, Kirino Olpet, Eugene Joseph, Emre Turak pick sites at Ant Atoll during the Pohnpei Rapid Ecological Assessment.© Louise Goggin

In 2005, the Conservation Society of Pohnpei led a Rapid Ecological Assessment to assess the existing MPAs and identify potential new sites based on habitat types and threat status. In 2011, two major conservation bills were signed into law in Pohnpei. The first bill amended the Sanctuary and wildlife act, adding four protected sites (including over 1500 ha of reefs and mangroves) to become part of the Pohnpei protected areas network. This law significantly increased the biodiversity conservation coverage in Pohnpei. Kosrae also has in place a natural resource management and conservation act that recognizes a Protected Area System (PAS). The majority of the MPAs were designated by the community but have yet to be recognized under the PAS. Areas of biological significane, which hvave potentioal to be K-PAS sites are held up due to land tenure and boundary issues. In Chuuk and Yap MPAs are all community based.

FSM has committed to achieving the goals of the Micronesia Challenge (MC), an ambitious initiative by the jurisdictions of Micronesia to effectively conserve at least 30% of their near shore marine resources and 20% of their terrestrial resources by 2020. To begin to address this challenge, a core team led by the FSM PAN coordinator, comprised of representatives from the FSM government, the Micronesia Conservation Trust, and TNC, has been working with State government and local conservation NGOs to raise awareness and build support for protected areas. With the help of the core team, the states are also working toward a standardized monitoring program to measure some key regional indicators, to assess broad trends in the country, and to track progress toward achieving the goals of the MC. Three working groups (marine, terrestrial and socioeconmic) were established to develop the standardized monitoring program for all MC jurisdictions. A standardized marine monitoring protocol was developed and implemented and baseline data has been collected on all the main islands. Both the terrestrial and socioeconomic monitoring protocols are still in the development and testing phase.

In order to assist the FSM jurisdiction to determine their progress toward meeting the Micronesia Challenge goals, TNC conducted a Gap Assessment of all four FSM States (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae). The process involved consultation with relevant stakeholders (multi-government agencies, local NGOs and community representatives) in each of the four states to collect relevant data to be able to conduct the analysis. The assessment took place in three sequential phases:

  1. Phase 1 involved determining the coverage of current protected areas, and was completed in December 2009. The results of Phase 1 found 6.4% of marine ecosystems and 14.6% of terrestrial ecosystems were covered by protected areas.
  2. Phases 2 analyses were completed in December 2009 to determine what additional conservation features were captured by Areas of Biological Significance (ABS) as suggested in the FSM Blueprint. The ABS areas were based largely on expert opinion and identified priority areas to implement conservation actions.
  3. Phase 3 completed the Gap Assessment by using the systematic conservation planning tool called Marxan. Using conservation goals set by each state, Marxan and the compiled data from phases 1 and 2 were used to provide a data-driven set of priority conservation areas. The areas identified in Phase 3 provided guidance for states to reach their goals, as well as the overall MC goals. The maps of each state in FSM, were produced in Phase 3 (download pdf of all maps, 5,422k). A map of one state in FSM is shown below.


Micronesia Marxan Model Results
Yap: MC Goals with Protected AreasThe blue areas are most important for protection. These areas are essential if in order to meet conservation goals. These areas often contain conservation values that only occur in that area such as spawning aggregation sites. These areas also often meet multiple conservation values in a relatively small area. The yellow and green areas are lower priority for protection. There is much greater flexibility with these areas in order to achieve conservation goals. These areas often contain widespread conservation values such as fringing reefs where options for protection are enormous.Yap1_large

Also as part of the MC, a communications campaign is being developed by a communications working group, which will incorporate principles of resilience (currently in draft form).

In 2013, the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) conducted a reef assessment in Yap, Kosrae and Pohnpei to identify areas where reefs were in a reasonable state and where reefs had the capacity to recover if disturbed. Using this data, GIS based maps of reef resilience were developed for the three states. These maps were designed to be used for spatial planning to establish an effective MPA network and to identify where managers can prioritize their actions and resources.

How Successful has it been?

Although the Gap Analysis process was participatory and well-received in the beginning, without a dedicated lead with enough time and resources to follow-up and continue coordinating, the effort stagnated. Also the situation in the FSM is complex because the states have autonomy and jurisdiction over near shore waters, and the national government has little authority. The effort was designed as a national effort driven by the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), but realistically it needs to be tackled state by state.

Lessons Learned

  • It is important to be able to support local organizations working with communities when designing and establishing protected areas, and offering assistance in identifying potential alternative livelihoods, as they are often the resource owners or those who have the greatest stake in the resources (e.g., providing facilitation/tools for site-based planning workshops, identifying sources of funding and assisting with proposal review, enabling site exchanges between local partners to share experiences and lessons learned, etc.).
  • It has been very helpful to establish a regional support team comprised of key organizations, agencies, and institutions, and to assist the jurisdictions, including the FSM, in their efforts to achieve the goals of the Micronesia Challenge.
  • The Micronesians in Island Conservation Network (MIC) has been a successful means of assisting local partners to strengthen their organizations and agencies by providing opportunities for organizational effectiveness assessments, strategic planning, and developing measures of success.
  • Having supportive language in the national priority document/guidelines made it easier to integrate resilience principles into management and planning (i.e., aligning the blueprint with the national effort).
  • One of the most effective ways to incorporate resilience has been through planning at both the priority-setting and site-based levels.

Funding Summary
David and Lucile Packard Foundation
DOI Office of Insular Affairs
NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program
TNC Early Action Grants

Lead Organization
AFSM Department of Resources and Development
Division of Resource Management & Development
The Nature Conservancy Micronesia Program

Chuuk Conservation Society
Chuuk State Government
College of Micronesia
Communities and Municipal Governments in Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Yap
Conservation Society of Pohnpei
Government of the Federated States of Micronesia
Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization
Kosrae State Government
Locally Managed Marine Area Network
Micronesia Conservation Trust
Pacific Island MPA Community
Palau International Coral Reef Center
Pohnpei State Government
The Nature Conservancy
U.S. Department of the Interior (Office of Insular Affairs, US Fish and Wildlife Service)
U.S. Forest Service
University of Guam
Yap Community Action Program
Yap State Government

FSM National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (pdf)

A Blueprint for Conserving the Biodiversity of the Federated States of Micronesia (pdf)

Conservation Society of Pohnpei, Rapid Ecological Assessment reports (pdf)

The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems in the Federated States of Micronesia (in The State of Coral Reef Ecosystems of the United States and Pacific Freely Associated States: 2008) (pdf)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Palau – MPA Design

Designing a Marine Protected Area Network in Palau

Palau, Micronesia

Rock Islands, Palau. © Stephanie Wear (TNC)

Rock Islands, Palau. © Stephanie Wear (TNC)

The Challenge
Palau is located approximately 800 km east of the Philippines, and consists of a series of islands approximately 459 km2 in total size. Palau’s coral reefs are considered to be one of the “Seven Underwater Wonders of the World.” Located on the north-eastern margin of the Coral Triangle, Palau’s coral reefs have both high species diversity and high habitat diversity. Palau’s reefs contain more than 350 species of hard corals, 200 species of soft corals, 300 species of sponges, 1,300 species of reef fish, and endangered species such as the dugong, saltwater crocodile, sea turtles, and giant clams. In addition to Palau’s diverse marine resources, it has the highest terrestrial biodiversity of all countries in Micronesia.

The immediate threats to Palau’s biodiversity result from the inappropriate use of natural resources, such as overharvesting and sedimentation due to tourism activities, development, population growth, and economic development. Similar to other areas within Micronesia, climate-induced coral bleaching is an ongoing threat. Having previously suffered high levels of coral bleaching and mortality following the 1998 El Niño event, the predicted increase of El Niño associated bleaching events could create even greater devastation to this area. Despite these threats, Palau’s landscapes and seascapes remain relatively intact.

Coral bleaching during the 1998 bleaching event was as high as 90% at some sites, with average mortality reaching 30%. The northern reefs of Palau suffered the most while most corals on fringing reefs around the rock islands in the southern lagoon escaped bleaching. Corals living in turbid waters adjacent to a river mouth were spared as well. The shading factor of both the rock islands and turbid water is believed to have helped corals to escape bleaching. However, corals that were spared because of the turbid water died a few years afterwards as siltation increased due to increased soil runoff from the construction of the ring road around Palau.


Palau: A Case Study (7:21)
Local leaders discuss the 1998 bleaching event in Palau.

Palau's coral reefs have both high species and high habitat diversity. Assessing the biodiversity of the area was a step in the development of the Protected Area Network. Photo © Paul Marshall

Palau’s coral reefs have both high species and high habitat diversity. Assessing the biodiversity of the area was a step in the development of the Protected Area Network. © Paul Marshall

Actions Taken
In 2003, the Protected Areas Network Act (PAN Act) was passed by the Palau National Congress. This landmark legislation provides a framework for Palau’s national and state governments to collaborate to establish a nationwide network of terrestrial and marine protected areas with the aim of protecting the biodiversity and natural resources of value to future social, cultural, economic, and environmental stability of Palau. These goals complement those of the Micronesia Challenge that aims to have each country within Micronesia conserve 30% of near shore environments, and 20% of terrestrial environments, by the year 2020.

In 2008, President Remengesau signed the revised PAN Act, which includes the establishment of a non-government corporation, the Protected Areas Network Fund (PANF), and the creation of a Green Fee (a $30 fee collected from visitors to Palau upon departure from the airport). This fee is used for management of PAN sites (a site that becomes part of the protected areas network by meeting certain ecological criteria). Only PAN sites are eligible to count towards the Micronesia Challenge. To date, over $3 million USD has been collected from the Green Fee.

MPA Design
When designing the Protected Areas Network (PAN), The Nature Conservancy’s reef resilience model incorporating effective management, representation and replication, critical areas, and connectivity was used. Two workshops in 2006 set out to develop a set of protected area design principles, stratification, conservation targets and goals and to provide a range of PAN scenarios for review by workshop participants. Multiple PAN variables were considered, including size, landscape context, current condition, threats, costs, and conservation goals. In 2012, another workshop was held to determine how to incorporate fisheries and climate change principles to improve the design of the Palau PAN. MARXAN was exceptionally useful in this process, as it is designed to help synthesize and automate the selection process by integrating both biodiversity and socioeconomic criterion that often conflict. Specifically, MARXAN attempts to identify scenarios that meet conservation goals, with minimal impact on socioeconomic values.

An Ecoregional Assessment of Palau was conducted in multiple steps. In 2002, twenty-four targets were selected for initial analysis using the Spatial Portfolio Optimization Tool (SPOT), which produced a variety of portfolios representing different protected area scenarios. Based on the SPOT analysis, it was determined that a variety of scenarios could accomplish protection goals; however, more work was needed to improve the quality of the data, and to complete the mapping of missing targets. Therefore, the second phase of planning focused on using the MARXAN tool.

Steps of the Ecoregional Assessment included:

  • Identifying biodiversity targets (species to communities);
  • Mapping occurrences/distributions of biodiversity targets and maintaining a database of information relevant to each target;
  • Identifying conservation goals for each biodiversity target;
  • Identifying areas of high biodiversity value (e.g., areas that support multiple targets, rare species, and/or help maintain ecosystem processes); and
  • Analyzing the threats and causes of high biodiversity areas and targets.

As of 2012, there were 13 PAN sites, including 5 terrestrial and 8 marine sites. These sites have rigorously undergone the Palau PAN application process and have met all the requirements. They all have management plans that are being implemented. All sites are entitled to the Palau PAN funding (Green Fee). Some of these sites have been evaluated using the Micronesia Protected Areas Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MPAME) and the scores range from management level 1-3, with management level 5 being the highest management level that can be attained.

In 2012, the Ministry of Natural Resource Environment and Tourism (MNRET) officially adopted monitoring protocols in support of management of PAN that were developed by the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) with funding and technical support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). This protocol provides a framework for monitoring key biological and physical indicators for assessing effectiveness of management in contributing to achieving the goals of PAN.

How Successful has it been?
Almost 10 years after the bleaching event, coral reefs of Palau that suffered the bleaching event showed tremendous recovery. Coral reef monitoring data by the Palau International Coral Reef Center since 2001 shows rapid recovery in deeper water (10 m) followed by recovery in shallow water (3 m). This recovery is thought to be facilitated by coral remnants and recruitment from less impacted habitats. Furthermore, recovery of the Acropora corals was highest on the western slopes of Palau, believed to be a result of high post settlement survival and favorable growth conditions. A recent unpublished larval dispersion model by Palau International Coral Reef Center showed higher larval retention on the west, consistent with the observed recovery and coral conditions.

Palau’s coral reef recovery from the 1998 bleaching event shows resilience when key coral reef ecosystem functions are maintained (herbivory, stable substratum quality, water quality) and human impacts (land based) are managed. Prior conservation efforts to manage Palau’s coral reefs through establishment of protected areas may have had a positive contribution to the recovery process. With the establishment of PAN legislation and regulations, many of the existing MPAs met the established criteria for membership with the network. This is a positive contribution to achieving the goals of the network because rather than focusing on getting sites established, the focus has been on improving site management. Improving site management ensures that the key ecological process needed for the maintenance of coral reef health that contribute to reef resilience are maintained.

The monitoring program set up during the resilience assessments of the PAN made it possible to conduct a rapid assessment during a thermal stress event in July-August 2010. This rapid assessment was performed at 80 sites to examine the spatial extent and severity of bleaching. Results showed that coral bleaching was significantly higher on outer and patch reefs than in bays, and was more severe in the northwestern lagoon. The study shows that reefs around the bays are more tolerant to thermal stress than patch and outer reefs, and the reefs in the bays are valuable refuges to buffer coral reef ecosystems against climate change impacts.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations

  • Reducing/managing land-based sources of stress to the marine environment will help build resilience of reefs through rapid recovery following major natural disturbances.
  • Healthy herbivore populations on reefs will facilitate coral recovery through ensuring clean substrate for recruitment and may facilitate post recruitment survival by reducing algal overgrowth.
  • Long-term monitoring is important for documenting disturbance and understanding reef resilience provides valuable information to inform site selection for enhanced management and prioritization of limited human and financial resources for management.
  • Designing a resilient protected areas network will require adaptive learning as new and improved data are made available to inform the spatial coverage of the network.
  • Community-based conservation efforts are an important local response that can build the resilience of reefs in response to impacts of climate-related events.

Funding Summary
The Nature Conservancy
The Wallis Foundation
Government of Palau (in kind)
Palau International Coral Reef Center (in kind)
Japan International Cooperation Agency
German Lifeweb
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
US Fish and Wildlife Service

Lead Organizations
The Government of the Republic of Palau
Ministry of Resources and Development

The Nature Conservancy
Palau Automated Land and Resources Information System (PALARIS)
Other government offices: Bureau of Agriculture, Bureau of Marine Resources
Coral Reef Research Foundation
Palau International Coral Reef Center
Palau Conservation Society

Biodiversity Planning for Palau’s Protected Areas Network, An Ecoregional Assessment (pdf, 3.8M)

Palau: Communities Manage Watersheds and Protect Reefs

Acropora size frequency distributions reflect spatial variable conditions on coral reefs of Palau (pdf, 508k)

Moving Toward Measuring Our Effectiveness: The 2nd Meeting of the MC Measures Working Group and PICRC-JICA Coral Reef Monitoring Project Meeting (pdf, 4.6M)

Spatial variability of coral bleaching in Palau during a regional thermal stress event in 2010 (pdf, 1.2M)

Monitoring Protocol Workshop Report (pdf, 635k)

Protocol for Monitoring Marine Protected Areas Protected Areas Network (pdf, 258k)

MPA Management Effectiveness Progress Report (pdf, 2M)


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Mesoamerican Reef – MPA Design

Designing an Effective MPA For Multi-Country Mesoamerican Reef

Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras

Stretching for 625 miles along the coastline of Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico, the Mesoamerican Reef (MAR) is the second largest barrier reef in the world. It encompasses a rich mosaic of coastal wetlands, lagoons, mangrove, seagrasses, sandy cays and a common structure, the coral reefs. These ecosystems host more that 500 fish species, 60 coral species, 350 mollusk and other marine mammals, algae and seagrasses. It is home to critically endangered species, like the largest population of manatees in the Western Caribbean, saltwater crocodile, sea turtle (green, hawksbill and loggerhead), Nassau and Goliath grouper, and the largest aggregation of whale sharks in the world.

An estimated 2 million people are directly woven into the fabric of the MAR’s rich coastal environments, highly dependent on its healthy ecosystems for food, water, livelihoods and income. Thousands of artisanal (small-scale) fishermen and the fishing industry in Honduras depend on the MAR’s fisheries, including lobster, conch, snapper and grouper. Its marine and coastal ecosystems provide the foundation for the region’s multi-billion dollar tourism industry, near US$5 billion per year, spent by more than 8 million tourist and 3 million cruise visitors.

Climate change is heightening the value of marine and coastal ecosystems, which provide valuable services for fisheries, tourism and water quality, but most importantly, under future climate change scenarios, beach stabilization and reduced vulnerability from sea level rise and stronger tropical storms. UNAM´s monitoring stations in Puerto Morelos demonstrated that during Hurricane Wilma reef barriers reduced the wave energy at least six times before hitting the coastline, converting 12 meter height waves in 2 meters height. Moreover, mangroves and seagrasses ecosystems are important carbon sinks that are essential to maintain or restore. One hectare of coral reef can provide goods and environmental services worth at least US$ 130,000, and US$ 50,000 of those derived from reduced vulnerability in the face of climate change.

The main threats affecting the MAR are overfishing, pollution from inland and coastal settlements, runoff from agriculture, sedimentation, coastal ecosystems conversion due to coastal development and inappropriate tourism practices. Climate change driven stressors, such as increased sea water temperature, sea level rise, stronger storms and sea water acidification, are pushing ecosystems to their limits and affecting their capacity to sustain human use and pressure. As a result, conserving marine ecosystems and addressing climate change impacts on human communities have irrefutably become the same goal.

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras. Stepanie Wear/TNC

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras. © Stepanie Wear/TNC

Conservation Strategies
The Nature Conservancy’s conservation goals in the Mesoamerican Reef are:

  1. to complete a conservation area network for the Mesoamerican Reef
  2. to create permanent finance mechanisms that cover the basic management costs of MPAs
  3. to establish a network of sanctuaries for fish stocking/repopulation no-take zones, and fisheries management systems to sustain artisanal fisheries and healthy ecosystems
  4. to develop regulations, incentives and land-use zoning mechanisms to address coastal development
  5. promote ecosystems based adaptation


To reach these goals, TNC works within the following strategies:

Establish mechanisms, plans and policies for successful ecosystem based adaptation to climate change.
This includes social and ecological vulnerability analyses to develop appropriate adaptation strategies, as well as economic analyses to assess alternative scenarios based on climate change adapted coastal models. TNC will also work with the four country governments and key stakeholders to support the development of the official Mesoamerican Reef Agenda for Conservation and Adaptation for Climate Change.

Promote low impact coastal development.
Based on experience in Mexico, TNC will catalyze the organization of an alliance with concerned private investors and buyers which will promote principles, concepts and practices among the private sector as well as influence governments in other MAR countries. This strategy also includes providing support to municipal, state or national land use zoning mechanisms to ensure the incorporation of climate change considerations.

Promote an effective network of conservation areas.
In coordination with TNC, government agencies, universities and NGO’s conducted an ecoregional assessment of the area that identified a network of 31 conservation areas. The assessment incorporated the resilience principles. Most conservation areas are already under a protected areas designation; however, there are important gaps (600,000 ha) that must be filled to complete and maintain a connected and functional network (2,3 million ha). To complete the gaps identified in the ecoregional plan and add 500,000 hectares in the conservation areas network, TNC will conduct national policy work around the critical areas of Northern Cozumel, Xamanha, Mahahual, and Isla Mujeres wetlands, Central Belize and Turneffe, Omoa and Trujilo.In 2010, the largest MPA in the MAR (684,000 ha) was created by the Honduran government. TNC will support the effectiveness of the new MPA by conducting vulnerability analysis, adaptation strategies and information for the management plan.A key element of this strategy is the declaration of no-take zones within the conservation area network. The goal is the addition of 20 new no-take zones by 2014. This network of marine protected areas and no-take zones will protect at least 80 percent of the 38 validated fish spawning aggregation sites (SPAGs) and 60 percent of the potential SPAGs. TNC will work towards the goal by securing governance and political commitment to establishing fishing refuges and supporting mechanisms. The development of fishing refuges strategies for Quintana Roo, Belize and Honduras are currently underway. A final component of this strategy is the design and management of fish banks which requires a network of community managers and experts to coordinate and disseminate the process.

Develop long term financial mechanisms to sustain conservation and low impact developments.
To effectively fund and manage the conservation network, one new sustainable financing mechanism for each country will be developed (e.g. ecosystem services fee through diving, spearfishing, etc., or airport departure fees).  For example, in Belize the Belize Reef for Life mechanism was developed. TNC, Oak Foundation, a multilateral bank and the Belize Government worked together to form an agreement in which the government commits to key conservation actions and a capital fund of US$ 100 million is established to support climate change adaptation and conservation activities in coastal and marine areas. Commitments from the Belize Government will ensure the accomplishment of the aforementioned objectives and strategies, and will be achieve with the support form TNC and the capital fund.

Lessons Learned

  • To overcome the challenge of working on a multi-country region, effort is made to regularly remind stakeholders and partners to see beyond their site and country vision, and identify regional conservation priorities and approaches.
  • Coordinating efforts with partners at the site, at the national and regional level, can allow joint forces to achieve efforts like the rapid reef assessment and the ecoregional assessment that otherwise would not have been achievable independently.
  • A portfolio of priority conservation sites should identify areas within MPAs, but most importantly, should include areas outside protected areas that need urgent attention.
  • A threats analysis can identify the most important threats, and develops strategies to face such challenges.
  • A region-wide rapid reef assessment can advance understanding of habitat representation and replication, and preliminarily identify resilient reef sites.


Funding Summary
The Summit Foundation
The Oak Foundation
USAID Marine Aquatic Resources and Economic Alternatives (MAREA)

Lead Organization
The Nature Conservancy, MesoAmerican Reef Program


Amigos de Sian Ka’an, México
Belize Audubon Society, Belize
BICA – UTILA, Honduras
CBM / SAM / MARN, Guatemala
Centro Ecológico Akumal, México
CINDAQ, México
CINVESTAV-IPN Unidad Mérida, México
Comunidad y Biodiversidad, COBI, México
CONANP, México
CONAP, Guatemala
Cuerpos de Conservación Omoa, Honduras
DAPVS / SERNA, Honduras
DIBIO / SERNA, Honduras
ECOSUR Unidad Chetumal, México
Environmental Defense
Fisheries Department, Government of Belize
Fondo SAM
Fundación Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
FUNDAECO, Guatemala
Fundary, Guatemala
Healthy Reef for Healthy People Initiative
PRONATURA, Península de Yucatán, México
Sandy Bay & West End Marine Park, Honduras
SEA, Belize
TIDE, Belize
UNIPESCA, Guatemala
Wildlife Conservation Society
World Wildlife Fund

Communities, Economy and Reefs at Risk, the Mesoamerican Reef in Face of Climate Change (pdf)


Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Global Conservation Outcomes Depend on Marine Protected Areas With Five Key Features

Dr. Graham Edgar and his 24 co-authors stirred up the marine conservation world with their recent article in which they review 87 MPAs at 964 sites (in 40 countries) around the world using data generated by the authors and trained recreational divers. Their overall conclusion is that global conservation targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity, that are solely based on the area of MPAs, do not optimize protection of biodiversity.

They found that effective MPAs (measured by biodiversity, large fish biomass, and shark biomass) needed to have 4 or 5 of the following characteristics: no-take, well enforced, >10 years old, >100 km2 in size, and be isolated by deep water or sand. Only 9 of the 87 MPAs had 4 or 5 of those characteristics, most of the remainder of MPAs were ecologically indistinguishable from non-MPAs. The authors hope that reserves that are serious about biodiversity outcomes will adopt the 5 characteristics (when possible) and quickly see a rapid increase in the potential of a site to have regionally high biomass and species numbers.

Author: Edgar, G.J., R.D. Stuart-Smith, T.J. Willis, S. Kininmonth, S.C. Baker, S. Banks, N.S. Barrett, M.A. Becerro, A.T.F. Bernard, J. Berkhout, C.D. Buxton, S.J. Campbell, A.T. Cooper, M. Davey, S.C. Edgar, G. Försterra, D.E. Galván, A.J. Irigoyen, D.J. Kushner, R. Moura, P.E. Parnell, N.T. Shears, G. Soler, E.M.A. Strain, and R.J. Thomson
Year: 2014
View Full Article

Nature 506: 216–220. doi:10.1038/nature13022

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Belize – Fisheries Management

Protecting Reef Grazers to Enable Coral Reef Recovery: An Innovative Coral Reef Management Approach in Belize

Belize Barrier Reef System, Belize

The Challenge
Belize is well known for its incredible biodiversity, both terrestrial and marine. Its reefs have long been considered some of the Caribbean’s most pristine and unique reefs, however they started to show worrying signs of damage at the turn of this century. A 2006 survey of 140 reefs throughout Belize found that live coral cover had declined from approximately 30% in 1995 to an average of 11%. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which has been working in Belize since the 1980s to help conserve the country’s marine environment, carries out research on the health of Belize’s fisheries from their Marine Reserve Station at Glover’s Reef.

Location of the Belize Barrier Reef System

Location of the Belize Barrier Reef System.

Glover’s Reef is located within the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, where fishing, as well as spearfishing, is allowed. WCS found that groupers and some snappers are now overfished and that the proportion of parrotfish in the catch doubled between 2004 and 2008 because parrotfish are considered by fishermen as “the next best fish” to harvest.

The fact that fishermen were targeting reef-grazing species was a serious problem with far-reaching effects for the health of Belize’s reefs. Reef-grazers such as parrotfish play a critical ecological role within coral reefs; by eating large amounts of algae, they keep its growth in check, making sure that it does not overgrow the reef. Algae can smother corals, stunt their growth, and reduce their recruitment success.

Rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia), the largest herbivorous fish in the Caribbean. Photo © Julio Maaz (WCS).

Rainbow parrotfish (Scarus guacamaia), the largest herbivorous fish in the Caribbean. © Julio Maaz/WCS

The health of reefs is therefore closely linked to the presence of herbivorous fish such as parrotfish. As fishermen in Belize continued to harvest parrotfish, their numbers started to rapidly go down. Research on the change in fish communities after a seven-year period (2002-2009) of fishing in Belize showed a 41% decline in parrotfish over that time period. Overfishing parrotfish already has had observable effects on Belize’s reefs. One study found that an atoll reef lagoon at Glover’s Reef that had once been very healthy with a 75% coral cover now has less than 20% coral cover because of algae over-growth.

Actions Taken
The traditional management option to help overfished species recover has typically been fishing closures. However, WCS conducted a 14-year study at Glover’s Reef and found that while a fishing ban in the Conservation Zone of the marine reserve was effective in helping predatory species such as barracudas and snappers recover, it had little effect on the recovery of herbivorous species. This meant that a fishing ban would not be enough to reduce the growth of algae and help corals recover. This information, along with recent information on the poor health of Belize’s reefs, helped stakeholders understand the need for an alternative and more innovative way to protect Belize’s reefs: protect major reef grazers. It was local fishermen who first voluntarily recommended a ban on fishing parrotfish after it was made clear to them how important these fish were to the health of the reef and therefore to their livelihoods. In April 2009, the voluntary ban on the fishing of parrotfish became national law when the government of Belize passed a new set of regulations (Fisheries Regulations 2009) to protect overfished species.

A typical fishing boat used in Belize © Julio Maaz (WCS).

A typical fishing boat used in Belize. © Julio Maaz/WCS

The first of the new regulations prohibits any taking of parrotfish and surgeonfish in Belize’s waters. Both species are major reef-grazers, so this law directly addresses the recent increase in catch of herbivorous fish and the negative impact this is having on reef health. By giving parrotfish and surgeonfish full protection, the hope is to help their numbers recover and to in turn reduce the growth of algae that is threatening Belize’s reefs. Belize is the first country to pass a national law to protect reef grazers, which are critical to the health of coral reefs. In fact, many consider this new law a new standard for coral reef protection, as management strategies have until now focused on marine protected areas (MPAs). Of course, enforcement and compliance is key to ensuring the success of this national-level ban. WCS is providing technical aid to the Belize Fisheries Department to ensure that fisheries officers and patrols enforce this new law.

Dr. Peter Mumby explains the importance of parrotfish as grazers maintaining the health of coral reefs to a large group of fishermen in Belize City © WCS.

Dr. Peter Mumby explains the importance of parrotfish as grazers maintaining the health of coral reefs to a large group of fishermen in Belize City. © WCS

A second set of the new regulations helps protect the endangered Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus), which is currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Fishing of the Nassau Grouper is still allowed but is now heavily regulated – there is now a minimum and maximum size limit, and all groupers must be brought in whole so that catch rates can be monitored. Additionally, spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper are protected, and spearfishing is now banned within marine reserves. A third set of regulations creates a number of “no-take” zones in protected areas, which are closed to fishing. The areas selected are biodiversity hotspots with unique and/or fragile ecosystems and/or species.

How successful has it been?
It is difficult at this time to evaluate the effect that the national-level ban on major reef-grazers has had on Belize’s coral reef health due to the fact that the law was passed just a few years ago in 2009. WCS is conducting ongoing monitoring at Glover’s Reef to evaluate the recovery of parrotfish at this site, but there are no clear indications of increases in density yet. There is however some strong evidence that the fishing ban is helping reef-grazers recover. In 2011, the herbivore biomass in Belize surpassed levels recorded in 2006 and increased 33% above the low levels measured in 2009. This increase in herbivore biomass should in time signify a decrease in algae dominance in Belize’s reefs.

Stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) with blue tangs, which are also protected grazers © Virginia Burns (WCS).

Stoplight parrotfish (Sparisoma viride) with blue tangs, which are also protected grazers. © Virginia Burns/WCS

The effectiveness of the fishing ban in restoring fish populations and coral assemblages in Belize was evaluated in a study between 2009 and 2011. Increases in herbivorous fish biomass were found at approximately half of the studied sites, but coral and macroalgal cover stayed the same. However, the authors of the study attribute the lack of change in coral and algae cover to how recent the ban on fishing reef-grazers was.

Enforcement efforts appear to be successful as there have been very few instances of illegal catch of parrotfish since the ban was introduced. The results of a 2012 genetic study of fillet samples throughout Belize also demonstrate very good compliance with the ban – over 90% of the fillets checked were not parrotfish.

Lessons Learned and Recommendations
Lessons learned and some key recommendations include:

  • Extensive research on the subject at hand (in this case, the link between parrotfish density and reef health) is essential to making informed decisions.
  • Extensive research is also vital in explaining and gaining the trust of local stakeholders. If they see that research clearly supports a certain point, they are more likely to comply with it.
  • Fishermen are key stakeholders in marine conservation because so much of what they do in their daily lives impacts the ocean. It is vital to gain their support and to clearly explain to them how important healthy reefs are to their livelihoods.
  • Engaging fishers from the area can provide a wealth of local knowledge, as well as buy-in and compliance later on.
  • Reef recovery takes time – although three years of data indicates an increase in biomass of parrotfishes, slow-growing corals will need long-term protection to fully recover.
  • MPAs and community-level conservation efforts are an important part of coral reef conservation but certain issues require solutions with a broader approach.

Funding Summary
The monitoring and fisheries catch data collection programs of WCS have been carried out for many years in partnership with the Fisheries Department, and they will continue in an effort to record the recovery of parrotfish at Glover’s Reef and track the health of the coral reef. This work was funded primarily by the Oak Foundation, USAID, and the Summit Foundation.

Lead Organizations
Wildlife Conservation Society
Belize Fisheries Department

Belize Takes Action to Save Coral Reefs & Fisheries, Wildlife Conservation Society (pdf)

Belize Limits Reef Fishing, Wildlife Conservation Society

Belize protected area boosting predatory fish populations, Wildlife Conservation Society

Fishing down a Caribbean food web relaxes trophic cascades (pdf)

Testing for top-down control: can post-disturbance fisheries closures reverse algal dominance (pdf)

Written by: Florence Depondt

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

Interview with Dr. Graham Edgar

Five Characteristics of Effective MPAs

Dr. Graham Edgar and his 24 co-authors recently stirred up the marine conservation world with their article, “Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas five key features”. In this article, they review 87 MPAs at 964 sites (in 40 countries) around the world using data generated by the authors and trained recreational divers.

News Edgar et al map

Their overall conclusion is that global conservation targets for the Convention on Biological Diversity that are solely based on the area of MPAs do not optimize protection of biodiversity. They found that effective MPAs (measured by biodiversity, large fish biomass, and shark biomass) needed to have 4 or 5 of the following characteristics: no-take, well enforced, >10 years old, >100 km2 in size, and be isolated by deep water or sand. Unfortunately, only 9 of the 87 MPAs had 4 or 5 of those characteristics, most of the remainder of MPAs were ecologically indistinguishable from non MPAs. The authors hope that reserves that are serious about biodiversity outcomes will adopt the 5 characteristics (when possible) and quickly see a rapid increase in the potential of a site to have regionally high biomass and species numbers. You can find the paper here, and see a conversation with some of the authors.

We asked Dr. Edgar some questions and here is what he said:

What can a manager of a smaller, newer, or not isolated MPA take from this paper, as they might not be able to influence those factors?

Concentrate on good enforcement, ideally through good will from the local community, and also through improved policing if required. Newer MPAs will age, so with good enforcement and some no-take zones, biodiversity goals are achievable in most locations. This is not assured, however, so ecological monitoring is needed to understand what is working and what can be improved, rather than assuming all is fine under the sea.

In regards to working with trained, skilled, recreational divers to collect data for this study: what would you recommend to coral reef managers who work with (or want to work with) recreational divers for their monitoring programs? What aspects of this part of the data collection led to success?
We found group participation helped during surveys, which were more enjoyable when motivated and like-minded divers could interact with each other. Also, one-on-one training and support to Reef Life Survey (RLS) volunteer divers is fundamental to consistent data gathering. Our divers can see that their efforts contribute directly to improved marine conservation management. Virtually all of the active divers from the start of the RLS program six years ago remain enthusiastic and continue to participate, a very positive statistic.

What surprised you the most in doing this study?
In terms of biology: the near absence of sharks and other large predatory fishes sighted by divers other than in MPAs, even off isolated unpopulated islands. By comparison with reports from cruising yachts and divers in the same areas only a decade or two ago, it seems clear that population numbers of big fishes and lobsters have declined precipitously in recent years.

In terms of governance: the fact that the developing world and the Southern Hemisphere are leading efforts to establish MPA networks. European and continental Asian countries have very few effective MPAs, despite huge ecological stresses and marine biodiversity assets that are remarkable and unique, but deteriorating.

What part of this research has made you feel the most optimistic for the future of MPAs?
The recent establishment of large no-take MPAs in isolated regions is a very positive step. Of course this is only one component of a global MPA system – we certainly need effective MPAs of a variety of sizes to encompass all ecosystem types worldwide – but it is great to see some refuges established that will assist the survival of large wide-ranging species, at least in the tropics.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone