How to make an effective marine protected area

22 09 2009

Here’s a nice little review from the increasingly impressive Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment which seems to be showcasing a lot of good conservation research lately.

© USGS

© USGS

As we know, the world’s oceans are under huge threat, with predictions of 70 % loss of coral reefs by 2050, decline in kelp forests, loss of seagrasses, over-fishing, pollution and a rapidly warming and acidifying physical environment. Given all these stressors, it is absolutely imperative we spend a good deal of time thinking about the right way to impose restrictions on damage to marine areas – the simplest way to do this is via marine protected areas (MPA).

The science of MPA network design has matured over the last 10-20 years such that there is a decent body of literature now on what we need to do (now the policy makers just have to listen – some  progress there too, but see also here). McLeod and colleagues in the latest issue of Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment have published a review outlining the best, at least for coral reefs, set of recommendations for MPA network design given available information (paper title: Designing marine protected area networks to address the impacts of climate change). Definitely one for the Potential list.

Here’s what they recommend:

Size

  • bigger is always better
  • minimum diameter of an MPA should be 10-20 km to ensure exchange of propagules among protected benthic populations

Shape

  • simple shapes best (squares, rectangles)
  • avoid convoluted shapes to minimise edge effects

Representation

  • protect at least 20-30 % of each habitat

Replication

  • protect at least 3 examples of each marine habitat

Spread

  • select MPA in a variety of temperature regimes to avoid risk of all protected reefs succumbing to future climate changes

Critical Areas

  • protect nursery areas, spawning aggregations, and areas of high species diversity
  • protect areas demonstrating natural resilience or rapid recovery from previous disturbances

Connectivity

  • measure connectivity between MPA to ensure replenishment
  • space maximum distance of 15-20 km apart
  • include whole ecological units
  • buffer core areas
  • protect adjacent areas such as outlying reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves

Ecosystem Function

  • maintain key functional groups of species (e.g., herbivorous fishes)

Ecosystem Management

  • embed MPA in broader management frameworks addressing other threats
  • address and rectify sources of pollution
  • monitor changes

Of course, this is just a quick-and-dirty list as presented here – I highly recommend reading the review for specifics.

CJA Bradshaw

ResearchBlogging.orgMcLeod, E., Salm, R., Green, A., & Almany, J. (2009). Designing marine protected area networks to address the impacts of climate change Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7 (7), 362-370 DOI: 10.1890/070211





June Issue of Conservation Letters

6 06 2009

Quick off the mark this month is the new issue of Conservation Letters. There are some exciting new papers (listed below). I encourage readers to have a look:

Policy Perspectives

Letters

CJA Bradshaw





Eastern Seaboard Climate Change Initiative

30 04 2009
© A. Perkins
© A. Perkins

I’ve just spent the last few days in Sydney attending a workshop on the Eastern Seaboard Climate Change Initiative which is trying to come to grips with assessing the rising impact of climate change in the marine environment (both from biodiversity and coastal geomorphology perspectives).

Often these sorts of get-togethers end up doing little more than identifying what we don’t know, but in this case, the ESCCI (love that acronym) participants identified some very good and necessary ways forward in terms of marine research. Being a biologist, and given this is a conservation blog, I’ll focus here on the biological aspects I found interesting.

The first part of the workshop was devoted to kelp. Kelp? Why is this important?

As it turns out, kelp forests (e.g., species such as Ecklonia, Macrocystis, Durvillaea and Phyllospora) are possibly THE most important habitat-forming group of species in temperate Australia (corals and calcareous macroalgae being more important in the tropics). Without kelp, there are a whole host of species (invertebrates and fish) that cannot persist. The Australian marine environment is worth something in the vicinity of $26.8 billion to our economy each year, so it’s pretty important we maintain our major habitats. Unfortunately, kelp is starting to disappear around the country, with southern contractions of Durvillaea, Ecklonia and Hormosira on the east coast linked to the increasing southward penetration of the East Australia Current (i.e., the big current that brings warm tropical water south from Queensland to NSW, Victoria and now, Tasmania). Pollution around the country at major urban centres is also causing the loss or degradation of Phyllospora and Ecklonia (e.g., see recent paper by Connell et al. in Marine Ecology Progress Series). There is even some evidence that disease causing bleaching in some species is exacerbated by rising temperatures.

Some of the key kelp research recommendations coming out of the workshop were:

  1. Estimating the value of kelp to Australians (direct harvesting; fishing; diving)
  2. Physical drivers of change: understanding how variation in the East Australian Current (temperature, nutrients) affects kelp distribution; understanding how urban and agricultural run-off (nutrients, pollutants, sedimentation) affects distribution and health; understanding how major storm events (e.g., East Coast Lows and El Niño-Southern Oscillation) affects long-term persistence
  3. Monitoring: what is the distribution and physical limits of kelp species?; how do we detect declines in ‘health’?; what is the associated biodiversity in kelp forests?
  4. Experimental: manipulations of temperature/nutrients/pathogens in the lab and in situ to determine sensitivities; sensitivity of different life stages; latitudinal transplants to determine localised adaption
  5. Adaptation (management): reseeding; managing run-off; managing fisheries to maintain a good balance of grazers and predators; inform marine protected area zoning; understanding trophic cascades

The second part of the discussion centred on ocean acidification and increasing CO2 content in the marine environment. As you might know, increasing atmospheric CO2 is taken up partially by ocean water, which lowers the availability of carbonate and increases the concentration of hydrogen ions (thus lowering pH or ‘acidifying’). It’s a pretty worrying trend – we’ve seen a drop in pH already, with conservative predictions of another 0.3 pH drop by the end of this century (equating to a doubling of hydrogen ions in the water). What does all this mean for marine biodiversity? Well, many species will simply not be able to maintain carbonate shells (e.g., coccolithophore phytoplankton, corals, echinoderms, etc.), many will suffer reproductive failure through physiological stress and embryological malfunction, and still many more will be physiologically stressed via hypercapnia (overdose of CO2, the waste product of animal respiration).

Many good studies have come out in the last few years demonstrating the sensitivity of certain species to reductions in pH (some simultaneous with increases in temperature), but some big gaps remain in our understanding of what higher CO2 content in the marine environment will mean for biota. Some of the key research questions in this area identified were therefore:

  1. What is the adaptation (evolutionary) potential of sensitive species? Will many (any) be able to evolve higher resistance quickly enough?
  2. In situ experiments outside the lab that mimic pH and pCO2 variation in space and time are needed to expose species to more realistic conditions.
  3. What are the population consequences (e.g., change in extinction risk) of higher individual susceptibility?
  4. Which species are most at risk, and what does this mean for ecosystem function (e.g., trophic cascades)?

As you can imagine, the conversation was complex, varied and stimulating. I thank the people at the Sydney Institute of Marine Science for hosting the fascinating discussion and I sincerely hope that even a fraction of the research identified gets realised. We need to know how our marine systems will respond – the possibilities are indeed frightening. Ignorance will leave us ill-prepared.

CJA Bradshaw

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More than just baby sharks

23 04 2009

Sharks worldwide are in trouble (well, so are many taxa, for that matter), with ignorance, fear, and direct and indirect exploitation (both legal and illegal) accounting for most of the observed population declines.

Despite this worrisome state (sharks have extremely important ‘regulatory’ roles in marine ecosystems), many people have been slowly taking notice of the problem, largely due to the efforts of shark biologists. An almost religious-like pillar of shark conservation that has emerged in the last decade or so is that if we save nursery habitats, all shark conservation concerns will be addressed.

Why? Many shark species appear to have fairly discrete coastal areas where they either give birth or lay eggs, and in which the young sharks develop presumably in relative safety from predators (including their parents). Meanwhile, breeding parents will often skip off as soon as possible and spend a good proportion of their non-breeding lives well away from coasts. Sexual segregation appears to be another common feature of many sharks species (the boys and girls don’t really play together that well).

The upshot is that if you conserve these more vulnerable ‘nursery’ areas in coastal regions, then you’ve protected the next generation of sharks and all will be fine. The underlying reason for this assumption is that it’s next-to-impossible to conserve entire ocean basins where the larger adults may be frolicking, but you can focus your efforts on restricted coastal zones that may be undergoing a lot of human-generated modification (e.g., pollutant run-off, development, etc.).

However, a new paper published recently in Conservation Letters entitled Reassessing the value of nursery areas to shark conservation and management disputes this assumption. Michael Kinney and Colin Simpfendorfer explain that even if coastal nurseries can be properly identified and adequately conserved, there is mounting evidence that failing to safeguard the adult stages could ultimately sustain declines or arrest recovery efforts. The authors support continuing efforts to identify and conserve nurseries, but they say this isn’t enough by itself to solve any real problems. If we want sharks around (and believe me, even though the odd swimmer may get a nip or two, it’s better than the alternative of no sharks), then we’re going to have to restrict fishing effort on the high seas as well.

I think this one qualifies for the ‘Potential‘ list.

CJA Bradshaw

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South Australian marine park boundaries released

29 01 2009

As an addendum to my last post (Marine Conservation in South Australia), I thought it worth mentioning that the South Australian government has released its plans for coastal marine parks. I have yet to look through these in detail, but public comment is welcomed until 27/03/2009. We’ll see what the fallout is.

Release approved by Allan Holmes, Chief Executive of the Department of Environment and Heritage (SA):

The outer boundaries of South Australia’s network of 19 new marine parks were proclaimed today. This exciting development will help protect our unique and diverse marine environment for future generations to use and enjoy, and will also position South Australia as a national leader in marine conservation.

The boundaries will be available for public comment until 27 March 2009. To support the public consultation, 57 public information sessions will be held across South Australia. To find out more about South Australia’s new marine parks network, visit here or ring 1800 006 120.

CJA Bradshaw





Marine conservation in South Australia

26 01 2009

© U.R. Zimmer

© U.R. Zimmer

Just before the holidays last year I participated in the Conservation Council of South Australia‘s (CCSA) Coast & Marine in a Changing Climate Summit 2008. It was an interesting, mature and intelligent summit with some good recommendation surfacing. Although I certainly didn’t agree with all the recommendations (view the entire report here), I must say up front that I have been very impressed with the CCSA’s approach in their ‘Blueprint’ summit series to address South Australia’s environmental problems.

Many environmental groups, especially regional ones, are seen by many as raving environists1 with little notion for balance or intelligent debate. CCSA is definitely not one of those. They are very careful to engage with scientists, public servants, industry leaders and politicians to hone their recommendations into something realistic and useful. Indeed, I am now certain the only way to convince people of the necessity of dealing with the world’s environmental mess is to make intelligent, scientifically defensible arguments about how environmental degradation worsens our quality of life (yes, this is the principal aim of ConservationBytes.com). So, good on the CCSA for a rationale approach.

Enough about the CCSA for now – let’s move onto some of their marine-related recommendations. I won’t reprint the entire summary document here, but a few things are worthy of repetition:

Significantly increase the amount of resources available for marine species research and taxonomy, especially for non-commercial species.

Despite my obvious conflict of interest, I couldn’t agree more. One of the principal problems with our ability to plan for inevitable environmental change to lessen the negative outcomes for biodiversity, industry and people in general is that we have for too long neglected marine research in Australia. Given that most Australians live near the coast and almost all of us rely on the oceans in some way, it is insane that marine research in this country is funded almost as an afterthought. How can we possibly know what we’re doing to our life-support system if we don’t even know how it works?

Take climate change for example. The majority of climate change predictions are merely single-species predictions based on physiological tolerances. Most almost completely ignore species interactions. Any given species must compete with, eat and be eaten by others, so it’s insane not to combine community relationships into predictive models.

A strict monitoring regime should be implemented in all ports and harbours to continuously monitor [sic] for introduced marine pests in order to inform better management, in conjunction with the species outlined in the Monitoring section of the National System for the Prevention and Management of Marine Pest Incursions.

Many people, and scientists in particular, have traditionally turned their noses up at so-called ‘monitoring’. However, as a few Australian colleagues of mine recently observed, the marine realm has a huge, gaping hole in monitoring data necessary to determine the future of Australia’s marine environment. Take it from me, a scientist who regularly uses time-series data to infer long-term patterns (see Publications), it’s essential that we have more long-term data on species distributions, reproductive output, survival, etc. to make inference about the future.

Recreational fishing should be licensed, with the license fees being directed towards increased research of non-commercial species and education of recreational fishers.

I really like this one. It seems South Australia is the only state in the country that doesn’t have mandatory recreational fishing licences. Absolute madness. Given the capacity of recreational fishing to outstrip commercial harvests for some species (e.g., King George whiting Sillaginodes punctatus), we need vastly better monitoring via licences to determine local impacts. Not to mention the necessary generation of money to support monitoring and research, which to the average recreational fisher, would not be such a hefty price to pay. The political drive to keep the status quo is woefully outdated and counter-productive. See one of my previous posts on the potential impacts of recreational fishing.

There is a need for a co-ordinated, state/Adelaide-wide stormwater strategy. Currently the Stormwater Management Authority examines individual projects but does not manage a bigger picture with a co-ordinated approach.

A colleague of mine recently published an article showing how South Australian waters, being more oligotrophic on average than other areas of the country, are particularly susceptible to nutrient overloading. The main losers are seagrasses and macroalgae (kelp) forests – the Adelaide metropolitan coast has lost up to 70 % of its kelp forests since major urbanisation began last century.

There are many more recommendations that you can peruse at your leisure, and many of them will be updated this year once the CCSA incorporates all the received comments. I thank them for the opportunity to take part in their worthy aims.

CJA Bradshaw

1My colleague, Barry Brook, invented this excellent term to describe those people who blindly support anything ‘green’ without really thinking of the consequences. It’s also a great way to differentiate serious ‘environmentalists’ and conservation biologists from raving ‘greenies’.

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Man bites shark

7 01 2009

cut-shark-finYesterday I had a comment piece of the same title posted on the ABC‘s Unleashed site. I have permission to reproduce it here on ConservationBytes.com.

The silly season is upon us again, and I don’t mean the commercial frenzy, the bizarre fascination with a white-bearded man or a Middle-Eastern baby, the over-indulgence at the barbie or hangovers persisting several days into the New Year. I mean it’s the time of year when beach-goers, surfers, and municipal and state policy makers go a bit ga-ga over sharks.

There are few more polite pleasures than heading down to the beach during the holidays for a surf, quick dip or just a laze under the brolly. Some would argue it’s an inalienable Australian right and that anything getting in our way should be condemned to no less than severe retribution. Well, in the case of sharks, that’s exactly what’s happened.

Apart from a good number of adrenalin-addicted surfers and mad marine scientists, most people are scared shitless by the prospect of even seeing a shark near the beach, let alone being bitten or eaten by one. I won’t bore you with some ill-advised, pseudo-psycho-analytical rant about how it’s all the fault of some dodgy 1970s film featuring a hypertrophied American shark; the simple fact is that putative prey don’t relish the thought of becoming a predator’s dinner.

So, Australia is famous for its nearly 100-year-old pioneering attempt to protect marine bathers from shark attack by setting an elaborate array of shark nets around the country’s more frequented beaches. Great, you say? Well, it’s actually not that nice.

Between December 1990 and April 2005, nearly 3500 sharks and rays were caught in NSW beach nets alone, of which 72 per cent were found dead. Shark spearing was a favourite past-time in the 1960s and 1970s, with at least one high-profile species, the grey nurse shark, gaining the dubious classification of Critically Endangered as a result. Over-fishing of reef sharks has absolutely hammered two formerly common species in the Great Barrier Reef, the whitetip and grey reef sharks (See the Ongoing Collapse of Coral-Reef Shark Populations report). And illegal Indonesian fishing in northern Australia is slowly depleting many shark species in a wave of protein mining that has now penetrated the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.

Despite the gloomy outlook for sharks, I’m happy to say today that we are a little more aware of their plight and are making baby steps toward addressing the problems. Australia has generally fared better in shark conservation than most other parts of the world, even though we still have a lot of educating to do at home. Over 50 per cent of all chondrichthyans (i.e., sharks, rays and chimaeras) are threatened worldwide, with some of the largest and most wide-ranging species being hardest hit, including white sharks. The most common threat is over-fishing, but this is largely seen by the lay person as of little import simply because of the persistent attitude that “the only good shark is a dead shark”.

The attitude is, however, based on a complete furphy. I’m sure many readers would have seen some statistics like the following before, but let’s go through the motions just to be clear. Dying from or even being injured by a shark is utterly negligible. Based on the International Shark Attack File data for Australia, there were 110 confirmed (unprovoked) shark attacks in Australian waters between 1990 and 2007, of which 19 were fatal. Using Australian Bureau of Statistics human population data over the same period, this equates to an average of 0.032 attacks and 0.006 fatalities per 100,000 people, with no apparent trend over the last two decades.

Now let’s contrast. I won’t patronise you with strange comparative statistics like the probability of being killed by a (provoked) vending machine or by being hit by a bus, they are both substantially greater, but I will relate these figures to water-based activities. Drowning statistics for Australia (1992-1997) show that there were around 1.44 deaths per 100,000 people per year, or approximately 0.95 if just marine-related drownings are considered. These values are 240 (158 for marine-only) times higher than those arising from shark attack.

It’s just plainly, and mathematically, ridiculous to be worried about being eaten by a shark when swimming in Australia, whether or not there’s a beach net in place. The effort made, money spent and anxiety arising from the illogical fear that a shark will consider your sunburnt flesh a tasty alternative to its fishier sustenance is not only regrettable, it’s an outright crime against marine biodiversity. Of course, if you see a big shark lurking around your favourite beach, I wouldn’t recommend swimming over and giving it a friendly pat on the dorsal fin, but I wouldn’t recommend screaming that the marine equivalent of the apocalypse has just arrived either.

You may not be fussed either way, but consider this – the massive reduction in sharks worldwide is having a cascading effect on many of the ocean’s complex marine ecosystems. Being largely carnivorous, sharks are the ecological equivalent of community planners. Without them, herbivorous or coral-eating fish can quickly get out of control and literally destroy the food web. A great example comes from the Gulf of Mexico where the serial depletion of 14 species of large sharks has caused an explosion of the smaller cownose ray that formerly was kept in check by its bigger and hungrier cousins. The result: commercially harvested scallops in the region have now collapsed because of the hordes of shellfish-eating rays.

The day you fail to find sharks cruising your favourite beach is the day you should really start to worry.

CJA Bradshaw

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Our new Environment Institute: tackling environmental crises

9 12 2008

© T. Hampel

© T. Hampel

It’s official, the University of Adelaide has put in some major investment to get its environmental research specialists together to turns things into high gear. I’m privileged to be a part of the Institute, and I hopefully will be blogging about many of the exciting, topical and revolutionary research coming out this new ‘think tank’ (also, a ‘do tank’) over the coming years.

This report from AdelaideNow:

THE University of Adelaide will bring together experts in water management, climate change, economics, marine research, energy technology and ancient DNA to tackle Australia’s most pressing environmental challenges.

The new Environment Institute will be headed by water policy expert Mike Young who said Australia faced diabolical policy problems in relation to climate change and water resources.

“While climate change is the issue of greatest national importance, it is arguable that water is the issue of most interest to South Australia,” Professor Young said.

“The River Murray, our greatest ecological icon, is under terminal stress and we need to find alternative water sources.

“We should expect the adverse effects of climate change to first be expressed in water.”

Professor Young said research was needed to help reduce Australia’s carbon footprint, to restore and improve native habitats and restructure agricultural systems.

“Many of these issues have been dealt with in isolation in the past but this is no longer an option,” he said.

“All are linked and must be dealt with in a holistic and co-ordinated way.”

Also involved in the institute will be the university’s climate change expert Barry Brook and conservationist David Paton.

University vice-chancellor James McWha said all of the institute’s researchers had an outstanding track record and were internationally recognised in their fields.

“Collectively, they have been growing their research at a phenomenal rate over the past five years and they will play a critical role in building the state’s reputation as a global leader in environmental research,” Professor McWha said.





Failing on ocean protection

24 11 2008

A new paper from Conservation Letters by Mark Spalding and colleagues entitled Toward representative protection of the world’s coasts and oceans-progress, gaps, and opportunities reminds us just how crap we are at protecting ocean habitats. I sincerely hope this one is a Potential given that the only direction one can move from absolute bottom is up. Richard Black at the BBC reports on the paper’s main findings:

toilet-ocean_squareLess than 1% of the world’s oceans have been given protected status, according to a major survey.

Governments have committed to a target of protecting 10% by 2012, which the authors of the new report say there is no chance of meeting.

Protecting ecologically important areas can help fish stocks to regenerate, and benefit the tourism industry.

The survey was led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and is published in the journal Conservation Letters.

“For those of us working in the issue full-time it’s not a surprise, we’ve known all along that marine protection is lagging behind what’s happening on land, but it’s nice to have it pinned down,” said TNC’s Mark Spalding.

“It’s depressing that we’ve still got so far to go, but there are points of hope,” he told BBC News.

Coastal concentration

Four years ago, signatories to the UN’s biodiversity convention – which includes almost every country – pledged to protect at least 10% of the oceans in a way that makes sense ecologically.

Protecting them does not mean banning activities such as fishing or shipping completely, but making sure they are carried out sustainably.

All of the areas currently protected fall into countries’ Exclusive Economic Zones, and the majority are along coasts, the study finds.

Even so, only about 4% of coastal waters are protected.

Countries diverge widely in how much protection they have mandated.

Whereas New Zealand has almost 70% of its coastline under some form of protection, countries around the Mediterranean have set aside less than 2%.

In the developing world, Dr Spalding cites Guinea-Bissau as a country that has had invested in protection, particularly in the Bijagos Archipelago, which is home to a community of hippos dwelling along its mangrove coast, as well as more conventional marine species.

Palau, Indonesia, Micronesia and several Caribbean states are also making significant progress, he said.

About 12% of the Earth’s land surface has been put under protection.

Download the Spalding paper free of charge here.








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