Thursday, December 4, 2008

Marine Protected Areas: scientists studying the impacts

The continuing efforts to establish marine protected areas (MPA) or reserves worldwide has been an important issue with many conservation and scientific groups for obvious reasons. Activities ranging from overfishing to pollution have needed to be addressed because of the negative impact they have on marine ecosystems and marine life populations. The juggling act has always been in trying to meet the needs or at least compromise with the various stakeholders: commercial fishing, recreational activities, conservationists, scientists, and more.

Challenging as it is, MPAs continue to be established and now a new challenge facing scientists is the careful monitoring of these areas to see what effects - good or bad - the MPA may be having. I was reading interesting information from a Marine Science Review (Marine Protected Areas & Reserves #288). Worldwide, there is a considerable amount of research taking place regarding MPAs. Some of the issues they are studying have to do with bio-dispersion - the movement of marine species within a given area. We humans may define an area as "protected" but marine species don't read the fine print and may not stay within safe borders. Depending on the size, sex, and bio-density, a species that moves into harvesting areas, outside an MPA's borders, could be severely impacted. On the other hand, species of less commercial value could profligate within the MPA and perhaps upset the overall ecosystem - one example I read concerned increased populations of parrotfish which consume coral.

While the overall concept of marine protected areas and reserves seems to make environmental sense, scientists are hard at work developing new methodologies and research methods to be able to properly monitor the long term consequences of our efforts to preserve and protect our oceanic resources.

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