Editor’s note: Imène Meliane is marine program officer for the IUCN Global Marine Programme, and has been active on marine invasive species issues around the world, most extensively in the Mediterranean and South America. MPA News requested her insights on invasive species and her advice to MPA managers. Below is her response, aided by contributions from Marnie Campbell and Chad Hewitt, both of Biosecurity New Zealand:

“Anecdotally, there is a propensity for protected areas to be invaded. MPAs are points of significant attraction for marine tourism, including recreational boating, yachting, the diving and snorkeling industry, and, where allowed, recreational and artisanal fishing. All these activities are likely to lead to increased risks of introducing non-indigenous marine species associated with hull fouling; ballast water (of some cruising yachts); the accidental transfer of species via anchor wells and chains, or on wetsuits as spores or microscopic phases; and bait material from recreational fishing. In addition, many MPAs around the world are located immediately adjacent to major ports and shipping lanes, and in some cases may actually host ports and/or shipping lanes within their boundaries.

“The designation of protected areas rarely has the requirements to establish baseline biodiversity information, or even more rarely, to monitor the performance of protection over time. Similarly, the policy or regulations controlling these areas are established to protect biodiversity and hence the ability to remove species, as in the case of an incursion response, is limited or unavailable.

“The risk of not coping with invasive species in marine protected areas is high. These species can undermine the benefits the MPA is providing, drastically change biodiversity, threaten endangered species, and severely impact both tourism and fisheries. Unless invasive species are addressed in management plans, MPAs are not safe from their impacts.

“Addressing marine bioinvasions is not an easy task and protecting MPAs in the borderless marine environment is certainly a challenging issue. However, MPA managers with minimal budgets and working in countries or regions where there is no plan to combat invasive species can and must make the difference.

“Many MPAs have monitoring programs. Although these generally do not consider invasive species, they could easily be modified to this end, as could regulations (e.g., to require a baseline survey for the establishment of the MPA, and to allow eradication of invasive species in case of an incursion). Awareness is essential, and local communities can play a critical role to help address invasive species. And most importantly, MPA managers can reach out for help.”

For more information:
Imène Meliane, IUCN Regional Office for South America, Av. de los Shyris 2680 y Gáspar de Villarroel, Edificio Mita-Cobadelsa Penthouse, PH, Casilla 17-17-626, Quito, Ecuador. Tel: +593 2 2261 075 ext. 213; E-mail: imene.meliane@iucn.org

Also: Imène Meliane and Linda Shaw of the (US) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are conducting a survey of MPA managers worldwide to compile experiences and perspectives on invasive species and MPAs. The project goal is to extract lessons learned and provide technical advice for managers and policymakers. To participate, contact Meliane at imene.meliane@iucn.org or Shaw at linda.shaw@noaa.gov.