Can management effort be predicted for Marine Protected Areas?

12 May 2014

Map of proposed Scottish nature conservation MPAsAs the building blocks for a network of MPAs develop, a new paper by Heriot Watt researcher Kate Gormley[1] explores what considerations for management are affected by network design.

Human activities now place heavy pressures on marine ecosystems around the world and, as a result, there has been an unprecedented increase in proposed Marine Protected Areas. Scientists have previously considered what MPAs may achieve and how they might be distributed to achieve the set biological objectives for those specific areas and minimise social and economic impacts. In the present study, however, we have considered the longer-term effort required to manage MPAs and the consequences of selecting one MPA over another with differing conservation objectives, at different locations and different proximities to human activities.

In the present study we used the experience (level of management) of managing a network of MPAs in Scotland for over a decade (data obtained from SNH Sitelink) to test relationships between a number of different variables, such as:

  1. location of the MPA (offshore vs. inshore);
  2. type of features in the MPA (marine mammals, birds, benthic habitat etc.);
  3. Area of the MPA; and
  4. Management Complexity (number of activities occurring).

Scottish seas are thought to be amongst the most habitat and species rich in the North East Atlantic and are correspondingly of high economic importance to its population, with many regulated activities occurring in close proximity. This is therefore a good system for testing approaches and assessing management effort required to achieve the sustainable management of marine territorial waters.

We have found that it takes more time to manage inshore MPAs than those offshore and also that those with more protected habitats and species require more management effort, perhaps not surprising. A more curious outcome is that MPAs with more licensed activities within them do not require more management effort, and that those MPAs with more licensed activities within 5km of their border require less management effort. This latter outcome suggests that licensed activities, as a whole, are in keeping with the objectives of MPAs and that they may serve to reduce the development of new activities that would require management input and consultation. In the present economic climate, and with new MPA proposals on the table, it is worth understanding which MPA options are most efficient in terms of the staff time (typically governmental) required to advise on their sustainable management.

[1] Gormley, K.G., McWhinnie, L.H., Porter, J.S., Hull, A.D., Fernandes, T.F. and Sanderson, W.G. (2014) Can management effort be predicted for marine protected areas? New considerations for network design. Marine Policy 47: 138-146

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