The Second International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC2), held in May in Washington, DC, provided an array of findings and perspectives on the use of MPAs for ecosystem conservation and fisheries management. Some of these lessons were described in our June 2009 issue. Our coverage of the meeting continues below:

Vessel reefs as a useful tool for no-take areas and fisheries management

Sunken vessels in no-take marine reserves could serve a strategic role in attracting marine life to those protected areas and increasing biomass production, according to Paul Arena of Nova Southeastern University in Florida (U.S.). In his research of reefs in Broward County, Florida, Arena discovered that not only do vessel-based reefs attract and concentrate more biomass than natural coral reefs, but they may also foster greater productivity, particularly for certain economically important species like snappers.

So rather than viewing vessel reefs as incompatible with or unrelated to conservation, he says, resource managers should consider them as a way to optimize the effectiveness of no-take areas. Arena points out there are no protected areas around any of the 70 vessel reefs in waters off Broward County. “Without protection, the vessel reefs act more as fishing tools – attracting and concentrating fish to a well-known fishing spot – than fisheries enhancement devices,” he says. “This has the opposite effect on fisheries than reserves would, and exploits the resource at an even faster rate than if the vessel reefs weren’t there.” He recommends designating reserves around some of the existing wrecks, or sinking vessels in existing reserves without wrecks.

Arena notes there are potential downsides to placing sunken vessels in protected areas. Placement too close to natural reefs, for example, could be a problem in the case of storm events, which can move even large vessels across the seafloor. And deploying vessel reefs within existing reserves will likely cause some migration of fishes from natural areas to the vessels during initial colonization of the latter. “This would lead to decreased numbers of fish on natural reefs until all space is utilized,” says Arena. “But natural reefs should be repopulated by movement of fishes into the vacant habitat or recruitment of juveniles.”

For more information: Paul Arena, Department of Math, Science and Technology, Nova Southeastern University, Davie, Florida, U.S. E-mail:

Cellphones and anonymous tips as tools for community-based MPA enforcement

In the Philippine province of Bohol, enforcement of the dozens of community-based MPAs there is a challenge. The small MPAs are scattered and distant from enforcement centers, and enforcement manpower is too limited to have staff on site at all times. With incidents of violence by illegal fishers and even corruption by some enforcement staff, few community members have been willing to participate actively in reporting MPA violations.

To address these challenges, Project Seahorse Foundation for Marine Conservation partnered with KAMADA (an alliance of 18 fishing communities in the region) and PAMANA ka sa Pilipinas (an alliance of Philippine MPA managers) to create a community-based reporting structure. The basis of the structure was an intermediary center to receive cellular phone calls from a network of anonymous tipsters. An observed incident of dynamite fishing, for example, would be phoned to the center, and the center would then communicate that tip to the regional fish market. There, delivery of dynamited fish by the offender could be seized by enforcement officials. One tip received through the system led officials to seize 1000 kilograms of dynamited fish.

Financial constraints and other factors have caused a temporary halt to the intermediary center’s operation. However, the concept was proven in practice for Bohol and holds promise for other areas around the world, says Erwin Brunio, a former staffmember of Project Seahorse Foundation who facilitated the formation of the community reporting structure. “If we can engage communities in reporting violations in an anonymous and safe way, we can increase the number of community members participating in enforcement-related activities for MPA management,” says Brunio. The more eyes there are watching an MPA, he says, the more effective it can be. “After all, an unenforced MPA is not an MPA.”

For more information: Erwin Brunio, Graduate School of Marine Science and Technology, Fish Population Analysis Laboratory, Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology, Tokyo, Japan. E-mail:

Database on seamounts informs planning of high seas MPAs

Launched in 2001 and continually adding greater and greater detail, the SeamountsOnline website provides data on species that have been observed or collected from seamounts worldwide ( The website is designed to facilitate research on seamount ecology, and to act as a resource for managers. The latest version of SeamountsOnline, released earlier this year, provides the ability to search for seamounts and related data by Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as well as by species or seamount. Users may also search in international waters.

The project, mentioned in multiple presentations at IMPAC2, is led by Karen Stocks of the University of California. “Creating MPAs on seamounts to better manage their resources is occurring within national jurisdictions, and is under consideration on the high seas,” says Stocks. “By providing information on the species that have been recorded and the level of biological knowledge about different seamounts, SeamountsOnline can help managers determine which seamounts may have species of special concern (such as deepwater corals), which ones have particularly diverse communities, and, on a more practical level, which ones have been studied well enough to draw conclusions about their ecology. This information is one piece of the puzzle managers need to determine which seamounts should be protected, how many need to be protected, and in what spatial arrangement.”

The main challenge in developing the database, she says, has been getting high-quality datasets. The data that are published in journal articles and reports are often summarized and incomplete. When she launched the project, Stocks was concerned that information in SeamountsOnline might help extractive industries “discover” a new seamount. “I developed some protocols to guard sensitive data, such as not posting quantitative information (i.e., biomass per trawl) for commercially targeted species like precious corals. However, my experience is that scientists are one step behind industry, and I have not yet come across any datasets that I thought would change fishing practices. Generally, scientists come by a seamount to do the ‘post-mortem’ after commercial extraction has already boomed there.”

Note that SeamountsOnline is distinct from the Seamount Catalog (, a complementary but separate initiative that provides bathymetric maps on more than 1800 seamounts and data on their geology, rather than ecological data. The two projects are now collaborating to develop a link between their respective data systems.

For more information: Karen Stocks, University of California, San Diego, California, U.S. E-mail:

Next IMPAC will be in France in 2013

France will host the Third International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC3) in Marseilles in 2013. An announcement in French is at Including its overseas territories, France has the second largest Exclusive Economic Zone of any country in the world, after the U.S. The first IMPAC was held in Australia in 2005.