Using Biological Survey Data When Selecting MPAs: A Framework

By Mat Vanderklift and Trevor Ward, University of Western Australia

Ecological information is an important basis for the selection of marine protected areas. However, when evaluating areas, planners are often faced with limited and uncertain ecological information on which to base their decisions. They usually do not have good information about the distribution patterns of species, habitats, and ecosystems over extensive areas. Even less is known about the processes that maintain biological diversity (such as those that maintain fish or invertebrate recruitment to an area) and the extent of ecological interconnectedness of different areas.

Arbitrary declaration of areas for MPAs on the basis of poor ecological knowledge leads to a high risk that objectives will not be met. If MPAs are to be more than just paper exercises to appease lobby groups with politically acceptable solutions, appropriate ecological data from a carefully designed process of sampling and analysis are required. MPAs identified and selected using only superficial ecological knowledge will provide a false sense of security, and may disguise continuing decay of marine biological diversity both within and around designated MPAs.