Assessing ecological changes in and around marine reserves using community perceptions and biological surveys.

Author(s):  M. Yasué, L. Kaufman, A.C.J. Vincent

Take home messages for marine resource managers

  • Villager’s support for a reserve does not necessarily depend on strong evidence from fish surveys.  Villager’s perceptions are affected by a wide range of information sources and managers seeking  to enhance local support should tap these information sources.
  • It is important for managers to create inexpensive and effective monitoring methods that use a  diverse range of data sources because each monitoring system has different strengths and  weaknesses.  

1. Background to study
No-take marine reserves that are created and maintained by local villagers can increase fish numbers  and benefit villagers. However, these benefits vary among reserves. As more of these reserves are  created, it is important to understand the effects of specific reserves on fish communities and  villager’s awareness of such effects.  

2. Methods

  • Biological surveys: We identified, counted and estimated sizes of fish in four rectangles (5m x  50m). Conducted twice a year over seven years, in 4-11 year old, well-enforced 43 ha reserve near  Handumon village, Bohol, Philippines. Surveys repeated just outside reserves and in three fishing  areas that were 4-30 km away from the reserves
  • Community perceptions surveys: In 1999 (n=59) and 2004 (n=37) villagers asked if they thought  fish numbers, sizes and the number of fish families had changed since reserve establishment in and  around reserves and in fishing areas.  

3. Principal results
In 1999 and 2004, most villagers felt that fish had grown and were more numerous since protection.  They were more optimistic about the fish populations in and around reserves than in fished sites. Fish  surveys indicated that some fish had become more abundant within reserves but not near them or at  distant fishing sites. They also indicated that fish had not changed size in or near the reserves but that  certain fish (wrasses, snappers and groupers) had become smaller in fishing areas. Thus, villagers  were more optimistic about fish population than one would expect based on the biological surveys.

4. Why the results are important to MPA managers
Community perceptions of how effective are MPAs may not align with ‘biological’ data. This means  that support for an MPA may be strong even if biological responses are slight or slow. Such strong  community support can promote recovery in some fish even in small reserves. Clearly, villagers assess  the success of MPAs on more than just biological effects. These sources of information should be  explore and tapped by marine managers to encourage community buy-in for MPAs.

Maï Yasué, L. Kaufman, A.C.J. Vincent (2010) Assessing ecological changes in and around marine reserves using  community perceptions and biological surveys. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, 20, 4, 407-418.