In the course of researching the preceding article on mooring buoys, the subject of “sacrificial” areas arose: that is, the potential management strategy of directing visitors to areas that are already impacted (or even degraded) by visitation, thus leaving more-pristine areas untouched. MPA News asked several managers for their views on the concept of sacrificial areas, and their responses are below. Although the respondents are all from MPAs with coral reefs, their answers may also apply to MPAs with other sensitive habitats (seagrass, shipwrecks, etc.) and high visitation levels.

Athline Clark, Special Projects Program Manager, Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, US

I do not think that designating an entire MPA as sacrificial is an appropriate management strategy. However, there are certain areas within a given MPA that – due to access, experience levels of the visitors, and water movement – are more likely to be impacted than others. It is important to recognize and manage this use so that these areas do not become completely degraded, as well as to manage overall activity in the MPA so that use does not impact the entire site.

The Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve [in Hawaii] is about 101 acres (0.4 km2) in size and in the past has had up to 3 million visitors a year. Only the inner reef area is heavily used. Even in this area, use is concentrated to the eastern two-thirds of the inner reef. This means that well over 80 acres of the site are not heavily impacted, and have good coral growth and high fish biomass and diversity.

Kalli De Meyer, Executive Director, Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, Bonaire (and former director of Bonaire National Marine Park)

On Bonaire, we have had a decade-long discussion comparing our reefs to a piano keyboard – the choices being to wear out a very few keys by playing them all the time or to use all of them a little every day. Where there is evidence that areas are suffering degradation due to over-visitation, I find it entirely appropriate to consider clustering moorings to create what I call “honeypots”. These might be over-visited sacrificial areas. But they might also be areas where there are fewer vulnerable species (such as around sandy beaches in coral reef areas); areas that have already been disturbed and may be dominated by more robust species; or areas where the topography tends to limit visitor impacts (such as walls). I also find it entirely appropriate that a percentage of the protected area remains pristine as this is the only way to ensure a full suite of species and a good gene pool. There should be no access allowed to these pristine areas.

Artie Jacobson, District Manager, Whitsunday Region (part of the Great Barrier Reef), Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Australia

I don’t believe we should be looking at this issue from a “sacrificial sites” perspective. Rather, we should consider the need to better manage a broad range of diver opportunity that is site-specific. At the top end of the spectrum, we would ideally have “prime sites” where we want not only to manage damage (diver and anchor), but also protect the specific natural attributes and offer a high-order dive experience. We should not be “training divers” within prime dive sites. Many dive sites would be better sustained if we were more selective as to who uses them: trainees or novices fumbling around with buoyancy or needing time to acclimatize to the underwater world have tremendous potential to cause physical damage to coral. If we want to protect some of the more delicate dive sites in perpetuity, we should not promote/permit trainee or novice divers to use these sites until they qualify as competent to do so. They should be first exposed to more diver-hardy sites. We need to explore this as a future management tool, particularly where new parks are being planned and established.

I’m not sure if I like the term “sacrificial areas”. It doesn’t help us focus on what we are really about: good management – getting the right balance between appropriate use and resource tolerance. If we are sacrificing a place then I don’t believe we are doing our job well.

Billy Causey, Superintendent, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, US

I would never identify sacrificial areas, and I do not think the use of mooring buoys should be in conjunction with identifying sacrificial areas. That would be contrary to what our job [of conservation] is intended to be.

We install mooring buoys in traditionally high-use areas, with the goal of mitigating damage to the corals and other resources. The most heavily used reefs in the Keys are the shallow reef areas, and they are not only under threat from over-use but are also the areas most impacted by coral bleaching and other perturbations such as hurricanes. By default, some of our shallow reefs are beginning to look like “sacrificial areas” – not just due to snorkeler-diver use, but also due to the other factors.

We do make it a practice to not put buoys on some of the best remaining coral reefs, unless these are areas of increasing use due to the public discovering them. The mooring buoys have a tendency to serve as a magnet for dive activity.

For more information

Athline M. Clark, Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, Department of Land and Natural Resources, 1151 Punchbowl St. Rm. 330, Honolulu, HI 96813, US. Tel: +1 808 587 0099; E-mail:

Kalli De Meyer, Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, Kaya Grandi # 20, Kralendijk, Bonaire, Dutch Caribbean. Tel: +599 717 5010 Email:

Artie Jacobson, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, Queensland, Australia. Tel: +61 7 4946 7022, E-mail:

Billy Causey, FKNMS, PO Box 500368, Marathon, FL 33050, US. Tel: +1 305 743 2437 x26; E-mail: