Frequently asked questions

What is a marine protected area (MPA)?
What is a marine reserve?
Why do we need marine reserves?
How do marine reserves benefit the environment?
Can marine reserves benefit fisheries?
 

What is a marine protected area (MPA)?

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) describes a protected area as; “A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.” Guidelines for Applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas, 2012


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What is a marine reserve?

Marine reserves are a type of MPA that are fully protected from all extractive and potentially damaging activities, such as fishing, dredging, aquaculture and mining. Research, education and some non-extractive leisure activities may be permitted within marine reserves (at managed levels and with mitigation measures in place) where compatible with site protection needs. Marine reserves are sometimes referred to as ‘no-take areas’.

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Why do we need marine reserves?

The oceans are under increasing combined pressures from climate change, overexploitation, pollution and habitat loss, and research suggests that we are in danger of losing entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within the next generation unless we act now (Rogers & Laffoley, 2011). Globally, it is estimated that some 90% of the populations of large fish species, such as sharks, tuna and swordfish have disappeared in the last few decades (Myers & Worm, 2003), and in the UK demersal fish stocks have declined by 94% since 1884 (Thurstan, Brockington & Roberts, 2010).

Like national parks on land, marine reserves have been proven to protect vulnerable species and habitats, support the wider marine environment, and build the oceans’ resilience to significant threats such as climate change and pollution. As such, marine reserves are an essential part of the toolkit needed to restore and protect the marine environment.

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How do marine reserves benefit the environment?

As well as protecting and restoring the habitats and species within their boundaries, marine reserves are able to support the wider environment and provide ecological safety margins against disasters and the continued degradation of the oceans. Studies have found that within marine reserves, there is typically greater biodiversity, greater biomass and that individual organisms are often bigger than those outside reserves (Lester et al, 2009).

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Can marine reserves benefit fisheries?

Yes – marine reserves have been shown to play a key role in supporting the wider marine environment, including commercial fisheries. The ‘spillover’ of larvae, as well as adult and juvenile animals from within a reserve to adjacent waters can help to repopulate depleted ecosystems and fish stocks. Spillover occurs when larvae are carried out of the reserve by currents, or when healthier fish stocks saturate the marine reserve and naturally begin to spill out into less crowded waters. Marine reserves that encompass spawning stocks of commercially important species are able to help protect and rebuild these stocks, thereby contributing to the associated fishery.

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Restoring the oceans will take time. We need to act now.