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Investing In Our Future

Imagine the world coming together to invest in itself? Now imagine that such an investment could appreciate up to 2000% over just the next 35 years. Marine protected areas make this possible. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are protected areas of seas, oceans, or large lakes where human activity is restricted. As the global population grows, there is growing pressure on the ocean to supply the ever increasing demand for seafood. But as a result of unsustainable fishing practices, many fish populations have collapsed.  

MPAs give these species a place to recover and allow both marine invertebrates and fish to reach sexual maturity and reproduce safe from human exploitation. As the fish populations increase within the MPAs, some spillover into the surrounding waters, ultimately increasing the availability of fish outside the area.  

Linecheeked Wrasse, Soft Corals and Crinoids in front of coral arches

© Conservation International

According to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund, expanding MPAs to cover 10%-30% of the ocean will have a benefit to cost ratio of at least 3:1 and up to 20:1. This translates to between $490 and $920 billion in benefits, and 150,000 to 180,000 additional full time jobs by 2050. These benefits include reduced poverty, protection of coastal communities, food security, and employment. By protecting and allowing the ocean to recover, MPAs protect the ocean’s assets and its health. 

But, developing nations do not always have the resources to manage and protect these areas effectively, so the success of many MPAs depends on the voluntary acceptance of management measures by the local communities. Convincing coastal communities that rely on fishing for food, that closing certain areas to fishing will improve catches in the long run is a tough sell. Success is further complicated by the fact that just as the number of fish in a MPA increases, the human pressure on the area usually grows as well.

One such MPA, the Sanctuary, has been created in the southernmost portion of the Bazaruto Archipelago, in Mozambique. The Sanctuary is a 30,000 ha (115 square miles) marine and land reserve that has sought to combine conservation with eco-tourism and community development in order to maximize the local communities’ support of their efforts. In 2007, a relatively small 39 Ha (.15 square miles) area was closed to fishing. The construction of two jetties caused massive numbers of fish to congregate in the protected area, because the jetties serve as artificial reefs. This relatively tiny protected area has greatly helped increase not only the size and number of fish, but also their biodiversity as larger and larger species of fish are drawn to the jetties. I observed the incredible influx of marine life brought about by the jetties firsthand based on my experiences during two trips to the area in March of 2011 and March of 2012.  In 2011, there were only a few species of fish clustered around a very small artificial reef.  When I returned the following year a jetty had been constructed and there were massive numbers of fish congregated around it at all hours of the day.  

With the support of local fisherman from the Marpae community, the no-fishing zone was extended to include an inlet and shallow vegetated area equal to roughly 500 Ha. This area provides very small fish and invertebrates with food and cover, and has allowed fish to safely spawn here. 

View of the sanctuary

© Max Cummings

The Marpae fisherman recognized that closing certain areas to fishing greatly benefited the fisheries immediately outside the closed areas. This motivated them to set up a second no fishing area of roughly 590 Ha (2 square miles). The owners of the local tourist lodge supported the venture by giving local dhow owners who had agreed not to fish in this area converted modern yacht sails. These sails are stronger, more durable, and lighter than traditional dhow sails.

The resulting rise in fish abundance in this area has led some fishermen from other communities to fish illegally.  But by working closely with those communities, the Sanctuary has been able to effectively prove to these communities that establishing MPAs near their own villages will be in their best interests.  

Fisherman poaching

© Max Cummings

Just a few miles north of the sanctuary is the much larger Bazaruto Archipelago National Park. The Park, which covers five islands of the archipelago, encompassing a total area of 1430 km, was established to protect dugongs and marine turtles and their respective habitats. This area is home to the single remaining viable population of dugongs in the Western Indian Ocean, consisting of no more than 200 individuals. This means that it is the only population in the area that is still strong and large enough to effectively reproduce and survive. The National Park is under-resourced and as a result has no effective means of monitoring and enforcing protective measures. Gill netting in the area has proven to be the most significant threat to dugongs, as the dugongs become entangled as bycatch when the nets are left unattended. 

View of the Archipelago

© Max Cummings

The Archipelago supports a resident population of 3,500 people, 70% of whom depend directly on fishing and fishery related industries.  The lack of industrial and commercial development in the area means that these residents exert extreme pressures on the ocean’s resources, because there are very limited other options for local people besides exploiting the ocean.  For this reason, community acceptance of measures to conserve marine resources will be crucial to their future and to the success of MPAs here and elsewhere.

References and further reading:

Reuchlin-Hugenboltz, E., McKenzie, E. 2015. Marine Protected areas: Smart investments in ocean health. WWF, Gland, Switzerland

FishForever: http://www.fishforever.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/FishForeverMozambique.pdf

G. Kelleher, C. Bleakley, S. Wells. A Global Representative System of Marine Protected Areas.  The World Bank.

United Nations Environment Programme. Western Indian Ocean's Pristine Ecosystems, Valued at US $25 Billion Annually, Under Threat. June 23, 2015

Darling, E.  Expedition to a Climate Refuge in Madagascar.  Climate Prep.  July 1, 2015.