Marine Protected Areas (MPAs): Beyond the target numbers, we have to ensure their effectiveness


by Thierry Chopin


A t the end of March, I had the pleasure of participating in the Monaco Blue Initiative (MBI) for the fourth time. This conference, initiated in 2010 by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, is a platform for dialogue and networking co-organised by the Oceanographic Institute, Prince Albert I of Monaco Foundation and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. Its members meet annually to discuss the current, and anticipate future, global challenges of ocean management and conservation.

This year, the tenth edition of the MBI, 145 participants discussed topics related to marine protected areas (MPAs), including the ambition and actions needed to set the scene for the post-2020 period (when the current target to conserve at least 10% of coastal and marine areas is to be achieved), the importance of ecological and social networks for ensuring the effectiveness of MPAs, and the links between MPAs and the economy of the ocean.

The meeting, convened under the presidency of HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, took place in Monaco, after being held in Edinburgh last year. In his opening remarks, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco stressed the role of MPAs as an effective tool against the threats facing the ocean, as well as their economic benefits.

The need to go beyond the target number game

The overall MPA progress to date is that 14,882 MPAs have been reported, covering 7.59 percent of the Oceans. However, only 4.8 percent of the MPAs are implemented and actively managed; approximately 2.2 percent are in strongly protected no-take marine reserves. The overall distribution is extremely skewed, with just 20 of the largest MPAs contributing about 70 percent of the total reported coverage.

In the Mediterranean Sea, 7.14 percent of the sea surface is covered by MPAs, with only 0.04 percent being no-go or no-fishing zones. Only 12 percent of the funding is in place to allow MPAs to be effectively managed.

During the conference, it became clear that the global community may meet the 10 percent quantitative target by 2020, but will clearly miss meeting the qualitative elements to have all these MPAs actively, efficiently and equitably managed and well connected (development of corridors, as is already done on land for biodiversity protection).

In Canada, as of April 25, 2019, 8.27 percent of marine and coastal areas are contributing to marine conservation targets. On that date, the Government of Canada adopted a new approach to marine conservation by distinguishing two forms of protection: MPAs and marine refuges. Four key industrial activities will be prohibited in MPAs: oil and gas activities, mining, dumping and bottom trawling. Marine refuges will offer more targeted protection to species and their habitat from the impacts of fishing (note: the announcement is silent on aquaculture). Activities will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and will be allowed if they are consistent with the conservation objectives of a specific area.

This is presented, by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as a balanced approach providing high levels of environmental protection, while also recognizing and allowing for economic activities, not harmful to sensitive areas, to continue to take place.

Asking the right questions and bringing clarity to be able to progress

Jane Lubchenco (Oregon State University) chaired the first session of the conference, which was well-organised and very instrumental in clearly positioning the issues: how to collectively continue developing MPAs whilst ensuring their efficiency?

When do we start to count a MA as really protected? When it is announced/proposed; when it is legally designated; when it is implemented; or when it is actively managed? That will seriously affect the percentages of the reported truly operational MPAs.

Reflecting the goals and priorities of communities and governments, MPAs vary hugely in the uses/activities allowed or disallowed, and in their conservation outcomes. For example, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognises seven types of reserves, with types V and VI allowing some sustainable activities.

Jane Lubchenco indicated that a MPA Guide will soon be released to harmonise and clarify the language used to describe the MPA stages of establishment and levels of protection.

As underlined by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, during his welcome address, clarity and transparency will be needed to avoid confusion and lack of efficiency, and it will be important to involve all stakeholders in assessing different options for MPAs.

Economic benefits and buy in by local communities are essential for the proper functioning of MPAs

One of the key issues in the adoption and implementation of MPAs, and, therefore, resistance to their development, can be the local human populations, that, if not involved from the beginning in the process, can feel displaced, devolved of responsibilities and without jobs.

I pointed out that if we want economic development/economic benefits/buy in by and for the local populations, then, some kind of activities should be allowed as long as they are compatible with the goals of an MPA.

To my surprise, if some types of aquaculture and fisheries were part of the discussion during the three previous MBI editions I participated in (São Paulo in 2016, Monaco in 2017 and Edinburgh in 2018), they appeared to be kind of white elephants (white whales?!) in the room for the 2019 edition of the MBI, until I intervened in the afternoon.

I believe that certain types of aquaculture, like integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA), and certain types of fisheries, are truly compatible with the objectives, management and governance of MPAs. However, if we want to progress in this discussion, we need to evolve beyond this emotional, negative reaction, so frequent in Europe and North America, where the perception is that aquaculture can only be equated to salmon aquaculture.

Aquaculture is needed urgently as food production systems that can be sustainable for providing food and health benefits to an ever-increasing human population. It is important to have in mind that, worldwide, 51.2 percent of mariculture is seaweed aquaculture, 28.7 percent is mollusk aquaculture and 11.2 percent is finfish aquaculture; salmon aquaculture is just a fraction of these 11.2 percent. So, there are aquaculture practices other than salmon aquaculture throughout the world and we should not reject them a priori.

Recognising and valuing the ecosystem services provided

The need to properly estimate the ecosystem services of MPAs was noted by several speakers. The question of how to use these tools to help integrate their values into the blue economy development was raised. It was noted that we are starting to have good data on provisioning services, but that there are still some gaps in the valuation of supporting, regulating and cultural services.

I made the point that extractive aquaculture (seaweeds and invertebrates) provides several ecosystem services. For example, seaweeds 1) are excellent at recovering and remediating dissolved nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon; 2) in an IMTA setting, they can be cultivated without fertilisers and agrochemicals; 3) they do not need to be irrigated at a time when water is becoming a pressing issue on this planet; 4) their cultivation does not need more arable soil nor deforestation; 5) they can be used for habitat restoration; 6) they provide oxygen, while all other aquaculture components consume oxygen; 7) by sequestering carbon dioxide, they can participate in slowing down global warming; 8) they can also participate in reducing coastal acidification; and 9) their participation in a multi-crop diversification approach can be an economic risk mitigation and management option for addressing pending climate change and coastal acidification impacts.

Improving the effectiveness of MPAs

The concepts of ecosystem services and natural capital should help in valuing intangible benefits into tangible economic benefits from MPAs.

I believe that the types of aquaculture and fisheries compatible with the management of MPAs could be part of the bio-economic development tools and benefits to use when moving towards sustainable and actively managed MPAs in different parts of the world, including in Canada.

By being involved in driving the management of MPAs strategically, local communities could gain resilience, and buy more willingly into the process leading to successful MPAs, with high levels of compliance.

If a number of speakers at the MBI were recommending being bold in our ambitions, specifics as to what actions to undertake were not always provided. However, some interesting case studies were provided such as the Marine Spatial Plan for the Seychelles: 15 percent of the waters will be under strong protective MPAs, 15 percent under a sustainable use regime and 70 percent for multiple uses; the financing of the MPAs is secured through a trust fund resulting from a debt swap mechanism.

Remaining bold to go beyond the 2020 targets

The tenth edition of the MBI was useful for taking stock of the situation in 2019 and reassessing what will be needed in the post-2020 period, after the current global MPA target will, hopefully, have been achieved.

A lot remains to be done and bold/ambitious actions need to be taken if we want to go beyond merely announcing proposed MPAs to having MPAs that are really effective, connected, and actively and equitably managed, with high compliance levels and full valuation of the ecosystem services they – and the compatible, sustainable activities within – can provide.

François Simard (IUCN), in his closing address, emphasised where we need to step up to deliver real tools demonstrating real economic benefits to be full player in the development of a greener Blue Economy (what I like to call the Turquoise Economy).

There is a need for clarity and transparency to gain efficiency, and for partnerships and networks to build capacity for effective management. Local communities need to be empowered to co-drive processes with the different levels of government, in which interdisciplinary approaches allow to integrate natural and societal sciences with traditional knowledge.

Initiatives need to be adequately funded in the long term so that what may presently be intangible benefits become real economic benefits, that will provide full valuation to MPAs, whose existence and place within the economy of the ocean will, then, not need to be justified to the general public, economic players and policy makers, but will implicitly be accepted in a wider seascape.

During this tenth edition of the MBI, Thierry Chopin had the great pleasure and honour to present HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco with a tie and a commemorative medal of the National Federation of the Order of the Maritime Merit of France, an Order of which they are both members.

In fact, the colours of the ribbon of the Order fit them perfectly: the background is ultramarine blue with two green borders on each side. Thierry Chopin has always said that there is a need to make the Blue Economy greener, and, therefore, that we should now think of the Turquoise Economy, especially with regard to aquaculture, which, if developed properly (as with integrated multi-trophic aquaculture systems) can be compatible with the development of marine protected areas.

Thierry Chopin was pleasantly surprised when he saw the Prince wearing the tie to the end of the conference; a gesture for which he was very appreciative, as was the National Federation of the Maritime Merit. This side event of the conference was also a testament to the commitment of the Prince to the world of the sea and seafarers from all ways of life.

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