Project underway to assess global development of MPA systems

A worldwide project is underway to review advances in the development of MPA systems at different spatial scales (regional, national, and sub-national), with the ultimate goal of distilling lessons learned and speeding progress in the effective designation of MPAs. In line with the target first set by the World Summit on Sustainable Development to establish “comprehensive, effectively managed, and ecologically representative” systems of MPAs by 2012 (MPA News 4:3), the project will look at the extent to which such parameters have been incorporated. The project is being led by the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre and the UNEP Regional Seas Programme, in collaboration with the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the World Commission on Protected Areas – Marine, the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN), and The Nature Conservancy.

The first step will involve preparation of an inventory of MPA systems already established or under development, using a questionnaire, literature, web searches, and correspondence with MPA practitioners. The review will help identify common methodologies, approaches, and challenges in establishing MPA systems, and compare findings with existing recommendations and principles. Outputs will include a summary of the inventory and lessons learned, an outline of preliminary guidance, and a range of web-based materials.

The project is on a fast track: data collection is scheduled for completion by June 2006, with the report published by September 2006. To contribute information or participate in the questionnaire, please contact Sue Wells ( or Hanneke Van Lavieren ( as soon as possible.

New fund providing rapid-response aid to World Heritage sites

A pilot project is underway to test a new fund that provides rapid-response aid to UNESCO Natural World Heritage sites facing threats or emergencies. Launched for a two-year pilot program in October 2005, the Rapid Response Facility (RRF) aims to mobilize small grants of US$5000-US$30,000 within three weeks of requested need. Organizers say it is the quickest grant-giving facility for environmental causes in the world, to their knowledge.

The RRF is a joint project of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, the United Nations Foundation, and Fauna & Flora International, a NGO. Michelle Taylor of Fauna & Flora International says that when emergencies occur to protected sites or their surrounding areas of influence, critical time is often lost organizing and fundraising for a response, during which precious natural heritage may be irreparably damaged. “An example of a large-scale emergency that could have benefited from RRF’s grants would be the Jessica oil tanker spill in Galapagos in January 2001 (“Case Study of a Spill Response…”, MPA News 2:7),” says Taylor. “It took 10 months for emergency-response funding proposed by the multilateral community to be made available to the site.”

Emphasis for RRF small grants will be on unforeseen events that occur rapidly (such as natural disasters) and holding threats at bay, such as sporadic illegal activity in protected areas. The RRF will make five or six grants a year during its pilot phase. Larger grants could be available in a later operational phase. The World Heritage Convention, adopted in 1972, seeks to protect the world’s most important cultural and natural heritage. Of the hundreds of World Heritage sites designated to date, more than 60 of them target marine and coastal features, including the Great Barrier Reef (“Effort Underway to Expand Use of World Heritage Convention for MPAs,” MPA News 5:6).

For more information:

Michelle Taylor, Fauna & Flora International, Great Eastern House, Tenison Road, Cambridge CB1 2TT, United Kingdom. E-mail:; Web:

Large bottom-trawl closure designated off Western US

In March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) approved a plan to prohibit bottom trawling in more than 500,000 km2 (140,000 square miles) of waters off the US West Coast from Canada to Mexico – extending out to 200 nautical miles in some places. The plan is designed to protect essential fish habitat and replenish depleted groundfish populations, including rockfish, cod, and sole. Several managed West Coast groundfish species are listed as “overfished” by NOAA. Although the plan pertains mainly to bottom trawl gear, it also includes several smaller areas closed to any gear type that contacts bottom, including dredges and beam trawls.

“This is a big deal,” says Steve Copps, senior policy analyst for NOAA Fisheries, about the plan. “We went from zero habitat protection to closing almost half [43%] of federal waters in the region.” NOAA analyses indicate that less than 10% of the region’s commercial fishing revenue comes from the areas that will be closed to bottom-contacting gear. The agency expects that affected fishermen will move their operations to areas that remain open. The plan is based on a proposal developed in 2005 by the Pacific Fishery Management Council in consultation with environmental and fishing industry groups. The NOAA press release is available online at

For more information:

Steve Copps, NOAA Fisheries, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA, 98115, USA. Tel: +1 206 526 6187; E-mail:

Report available on post-tsunami status of reefs

Most coral reefs in the Indian Ocean escaped serious damage from the December 2004 tsunami and could recover naturally within 5-10 years if human impacts are managed effectively, according to a new report from the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) and IUCN. Status of Coral Reefs in Tsunami-Affected Countries: 2005, the most comprehensive report to date on tsunami impacts to reefs in the region, says the cumulative effect of anthropogenic stresses on the environment remains the major threat to Indian Ocean coral reefs. These stresses include overfishing, destructive fishing methods, sediment and nutrient pollution, and unsustainable coastal development.

The report raises concern about potential economic and ecological damage caused by ongoing rehabilitation efforts. Many boats that have been sent to replace destroyed fishing vessels use different technology, leading to inappropriate use and increasing fishing effort. “There is a major need to sit back and assess what was successful during the whole rehabilitation process and what needs improvement, what lessons can be taken from this experience, and what still needs to be put into place before the next coastal disaster,” says co-editor Clive Wilkinson, global GCRMN coordinator at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. He calls on national leaders, donors, and agencies to convene small, high-level meetings in the affected countries to gather positive and negative lessons from the disaster.

The report’s major recommendations call for: establishment of an early warning system; capacity-building in integrated coastal management; improved fisheries management and coral reef monitoring; establishment of more marine protected areas; careful reparation and rehabilitation of tsunami damage; and development of stronger national ocean policies. The report is available online in PDF format (6Mb in size) at

Research spotlight: Accounting for environmental fluctuations in MPA planning

Research published in the 2 March 2006 issue of Nature journal suggests that for ecosystem conservation to be effective in dynamic ocean environments, networks of large MPAs may be necessary. The study, which examined the degree of variability exhibited by local coral communities in the Western Pacific, found that species composition was more random than predicted by “neutral” ecological theory. In fact, similar habitats in the study region exhibited vastly different compositions of coral. This high variability – attributed to the impact of local environmental disturbances like cyclones, bleaching, and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks – indicates that attempts to protect particular ecosystems should account for the need to repopulate them following local disturbances.

Maria Dornelas of James Cook University in Australia led the study (“Coral reef diversity refutes the neutral theory of biodiversity”, Nature, 440:80-82). The research team also included Sean Connolly and Terence Hughes of James Cook University. Below, Dornelas briefly discusses the implications of this research for MPA planning.

MPA News: Your study found coral reefs to be quite variable in composition, despite similarities in habitat. Why was that the case?

Dornelas: We think our results suggest that environmental variability in space and time could be behind these patterns. Let me try to illustrate this. Imagine there are three nearby reefs with similar assemblages. A cyclone hits two of the reefs and destroys most of the branching corals, but the third reef is unaffected. This would make the assemblages less similar on average (due to the differences between affected and unaffected reefs) but also more variable in similarity (due to resemblances between the reefs that were affected). These are exactly the patterns we saw in the data. Because disturbances on reefs are frequent, localized, and selective, we think this is a likely explanation for our results.

MPA News: How do your findings impact the potential planning of MPAs?

Dornelas: Our study suggests that effective coral reef conservation needs networks of large marine reserves that ensure organisms can disperse between reserves. Having only small and isolated reserves is too risky. Sooner or later, every reef is hit by a disturbance. If that reef is isolated, it is unlikely to recover – but if there are nearby healthy reefs, it can be repopulated. I suspect these suggestions are equally appropriate to any ecosystem, not just coral.

For more information:

Maria Dornelas, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture, James Cook University, Townsville, 4811, QLD, Australia. E-mail: