marine protected areas

Beyond marine protected areas

By Jennifer Selgrath

If you want to save money, you can invest in a blue-chip stock and it might grow. But a financial advisor would suggest that you improve your returns by diversifying your portfolio. We might take a similar, diversified approach to managing fisheries so that they are sustainable.

Just like your savings, the marine ecosystems that fisheries depend on need to be managed in order to ensure a healthy, productive future. But researchers working on small-scale fisheries have most often recommended one tool: marine protected areas, or MPAs. So at IMCC3 in Glasgow this August, my colleague Kyle Gillespie and I organized a symposium to broaden our view of the diverse tools and approaches which can support sustainable small-scale fisheries.

Small-scale fisheries employ about half of the world’s fishers and are critically important for food security. But many are in trouble due to overfishing and ecosystem degradation. MPAs, or no-fishing zones, are the management option that is most frequently recommended for these fisheries. MPAs are an important part of the marine conservation toolbox. Project Seahorse has helped fishing communities establish many MPAs over the years. We also, however, want to make sure that we are making fishing sustainable in the 99% of the ocean that remains “unprotected.”

Our IMCC symposium — Complementing MPAs in the Management of Small Scale Fisheries: Other Tools and Approaches — opened with talks by me, Dr. Marcia Moreno-Baez from the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, and Dr. Gabby Ahmadia from WWF. We spoke about our experiences with small-scale fisheries in the Philippines, Mexico, and Indonesia, respectively. The small-scale fisheries in these three countries are quite diverse. For example fishers in Mexico use modern boats that allow them to travel far offshore while the fisheries in the Philippines use boats that are similar to outrigger canoes, keeping them closer to their coastal villages. Our talks included discussions about management tools ranging from modifying fishing nets to increasing membership in sustainably-minded fishers organizations.

After the talks, we held a discussion about successful – and unsuccessful, but interesting – tools and approaches for managing small-scale fisheries. For the discussion, we were joined by researchers who work in many other parts of the world, but who are addressing surprisingly similar challenges. Through our discussion it became clear that there was no tool could act as a magic bullet to make small-scale fisheries sustainable.

But, importantly, our discussions led us to see that there were commonalities in the approaches that worked for many participants. For example, we agreed that it was important to start any conservation program with clearly articulated goals that are integrated with local and scientific knowledge and values. When researchers or resource managers are developing conservation programs to meet these goals, it’s also important to consider the local culture’s relationship to their fishing practices. Communities’ relationships with fisheries include both social and financial arrangements. For example, fishers may prefer fishing with specific gears and such preferences are important to understand.

On a pragmatic note, many researchers found that it was helpful to start with small conservation projects that have a good chance of success. When this happens, fishing communities can see the relationship between the changes that they make to their fisheries and the improvements in biodiversity and/or catches. This helped the communities to trust larger-scale, longer-term management measures whose impact isn’t as immediately obvious. Another bit of advice was that it is important to have regular feedback between research and fishers. This feedback is important, even before we have perfect knowledge. Overall it was a lively discussion that gave all of us a broader understanding of approaches that have a chance of success in making these diverse fisheries sustainable.

Chagos resets the baselines

By Dr. Heather Koldewey

Photo: Bob Long

Photo: Bob Long

Dr. Heather Koldewey, co-Founder of Project Seahorse and Head of Global Programmes at the Zoological Society of London, writes about the creation of the Chagos Marine Reserve, the largest no-take marine protected area in the world. 

Chagos taught me that I didn’t know what the ocean should look like.

Through my job at the Zoological Society of London, I’m one of those very privileged people to have had the opportunity to travel the world, and have worked from Mozambique to the Philippines in community-based marine conservation efforts.

In the Philippines’ the areas I work are what can only be described as ‘trashed’ – blasted craters giving evidence of recent dynamite fishing, few tiny schooling fish, and if you’re lucky, the flick of a tail as a small grouper scoots into a rocky crevice. Here, marine protected areas (MPAs) are about securing some hope for the future for poor and hungry communities with ever-decreasing options. And MPAs do work, protecting and restoring the wonderful diversity of coral reefs, but also recovering fish populations. Fishers there are fully engaged with MPA management as they know the importance of such areas of ocean protection to secure their future, as well as that of the ocean, something I only wish was a more widely held view within UK fishing communities.

I knew Chagos was different. I’d seen the talks, read the articles, talked to the scientists, seen the data. I knew Chagos was special, hence my commitment and support for it becoming a no-take MPA and involvement in the Chagos Environment Network and Chagos Conservation Trust executive committee. But seeing it for real was quite another experience that a graph, a chart or even an image could simply not prepare me for.

Working closely with the legendary experience of Charles Sheppard and extraordinary expedition skills of Pete Raines, we were fortunate to pull together a world class team of scientists prioritising the immediate research needs that would best inform a Chagos MPA management plan. For the first time, an integral member of the team was a trainee scientist who also represented the Chagossian community, a hugely positive step and one of the many successes of the expedition.

But back to my knowledge gap. Once in the water, I was unprepared for the sheer abundance of fish, the size and age of fish, and particularly the behaviour of those fish. For many years, I was curator of ZSL London Zoo’s aquarium so I know what a gnarly old fish looks like and you just don’t see them in the wild. Chagos was full of them. I have never had so many different kinds of fish swim towards me out of sheer curiosity – including lots of huge grouper that hung in the water column, something I hadn’t seen before. To quote from Finding Nemo – ‘Fish are friends not food’ in Chagos. I could not believe the vast areas of stunning plate corals, any one of which would be a significant attraction in any dive site in the world. I experienced the sheer joy of seeing sharks on every dive – decimated in most of our oceans and in even in trouble in Chagos.

Most of all, I could not quite come to terms with what we have done almost everywhere else. Our oceans are in a desperate state and pressure from people is only increasing. Worringly, even those of us who are involved in ocean conservation are shifting our reference points, starting to consider mediocre, depleted reefs to be comparatively good. We have lost a sense of what our oceans should look like and could look like. Chagos was certainly the most beautiful place on Earth I have ever been to and being part of the expedition has further increased my resolve that this is a vital wilderness area of enormous significance that must be protected. And the graphs and charts say that too.

Originally published on the Marine Reserves Coalition Blog.

El Santo Niño of the coral reef

By Dr. Amanda Vincent

I heard a profoundly important yet humorous anecdote at the workshop we are leading in Cebu, Philippines.  Project Seahorse has gathered colleagues from many sectors for a discussion around our research findings on marine protected areas (MPAs) under the mantra of “MPAs in the Philippines: Ever more, ever better.” 

We are delighted that some Roman Catholic priests from Sea Knights are participating in the workshop. This is a group of ocean-loving priests; many of them are scuba divers. One of the Sea Knights, Father Tito, is also the Executive Director of the Santo Niño de Cebu Augustinian Social Development Foundation. 

Father Tito told us this wonderful story of how the Church took a very sacred statue of the Santo Niño (the infant Jesus) from the basilica in Cebu to islands on Danajon Bank, the area of the Philippines where we have done so much of our MPA research and management. The arrival of the Santo Niño created a very festive occasion, with huge village gatherings, boat parades and street processions.

During the celebrations, the Church showed a film on environmental responsibility, motivated by its desire for stewardship of God’s creation. A large international fisheries management aid project on the reef later reported a notable decrease in poaching rates in the villages that the icon visited.

Thereafter, the municipal government of Bien Undo, Bohol placed two replica icons of the Santo Niño and the Blessed Virgin Mary underwater in an area with considerable illegal fishing, primarily using dynamite. The mayor of this municipality took the initiative because he is himself a Sea Knight.

Apparently the fisheries abuse disappeared because, after all, you do not blow up the Infant Jesus, or His Mother. Such a change is especially important because both icons lie in a critically important newly established MPA full of corals and fish that are vulnerable to dynamite fishing.

What other powerful conservation gains might emerge from collaboration with strong religious and faith-based groups?

Dr. Amanda Vincent is the director of Project Seahorse.