More than 1200 people from over 70 countries gathered in May in Washington, DC, at the International Marine Conservation Congress (IMCC) and Second International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC2). The joint meeting provided a broad range of news and viewpoints from researchers, managers, government officials, NGOs, and commercial interests. Travel grants provided by the conference organizers supported 24 individuals from 22 countries.

MPA News attended the joint meeting and will feature selected findings in this and next month’s edition:

What mollusks can tell us about larval export from marine reserves

The concept of larval export is central to the role of no-take marine reserves in fisheries management. As the reasoning goes, fish that are protected inside reserves live to maturity and reproduce. At least some of their young cross the reserve boundary into unprotected waters, mature, and are eventually caught by fishers. However, the export of larvae has historically been difficult to demonstrate, particularly as it impacts fisheries yield or catch-per-unit-effort in nearby fisheries.

“The main reason larval export is so difficult to detect is because the benefits are very diffuse and therefore subtle, while natural variability of recruitment is very high in both time and space,” says Robin Pelc, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “So, for example, export may result in an increase in recruitment of about 10-15% across several hundred kilometers compared to recruitment before reserves were put into place. In total this is a huge benefit. But it is very difficult to detect relative to natural variability, especially if there are no good data from before reserve establishment, which is often the case.”

At IMCC/IMPAC2, Pelc presented research that described a new way of looking at the problem, based on her analysis of several larval export studies. (Her co-authors were Steve Gaines, Robert Warner, and Claire Paris.) Pelc believes larval export occurs regularly, but can reasonably be detected only for species with short-distance larval dispersal, like mollusk species.

“We found that all the existing empirical evidence for larval export – mainly recruitment studies that found increases in recruitment of harvested species near reserve boundaries after the onset of protection, or higher recruitment near reserve boundaries compared to more distant sites – focused on mollusks,” says Pelc. “We believe this was in part because of the shorter dispersal scale of mollusks (which on average have a planktonic larval duration, or PLD, in the range of 10-20 days), compared to fish and crustaceans (each with average PLDs on the scale of about 30-40 days). Larval export for these longer-distance dispersers may just be too diffuse to detect, even though it is likely occurring and in fact of greater magnitude and more widespread than export in the shorter-distance dispersers. This is troubling because it suggests that the types of field studies we do to detect larval export just are not capable of detecting export for species like fish and crustaceans with long PLDs – species where the effect is probably the most important in a commercial sense.”

In short, says Pelc, the longer the dispersal distance is, the greater the benefits but the harder they are to detect. She says study designs that sample across both a time series (before and after reserve establishment) and a spatial gradient are more likely to be able to detect subtle changes in recruitment. “In addition,” she says, “model-based approaches that account for regional oceanography and natural variability in recruitment can be used to make more sophisticated predictions of what the signal of export should look like, and thereby be able to detect it. And as genetic techniques improve, there is also promise for using these techniques in combination with larval sampling and recruitment studies to determine where larvae produced in the reserves are going.”

Until then, she says, researchers must rely on changes in fisheries yield or catch-per-unit-effort when reserves are designated to infer whether larval export is occurring. She cautions, though, that such studies have trouble differentiating effects of larval export from the effects of changes in management policies and fishing practices that may occur at the same time as reserve protection.

For more information: Robin Pelc, University of California, Santa Barbara, U.S. E-mail:

Older and larger reserves have more large fish: implications for network design

In a presentation of research he published last year in the journal Ecology Letters, Joachim Claudet of the University of Salento (Italy) stated that no-take marine reserves that are older and larger are more effective in protecting commercially targeted fish stocks. Specifically, the older and larger a marine reserve is, the greater the density of commercial fishes inside it are (compared to outside the reserve), and the greater the density of larger fish, too. The study analyzed 58 datasets from 19 European marine reserves.

Claudet says the reserve-size dependency of the response to protection has implications for the design of MPA networks. Reserve design theory in the context of fisheries management has often emphasized several smaller reserves rather than fewer large ones, to increase edge effects for fishermen. However, Claudet’s findings suggest that creating several smaller reserves may actually be counterproductive to fisheries in that it limits the density of breeding populations within those reserves.

“Large MPAs are potentially more effective for fisheries management since they may have higher densities of breeding populations compared to smaller ones,” says Claudet. “Moreover, if a network of several smaller reserves is established and if most fish spilling outside the reserves are fished, you lose connection between the reserves (at least at the adult level) and the several reserves are not part of a network anymore.”

However, he adds, socio-economic issues need to be considered in network design, too, and may counterbalance the advantages of large MPAs. “Large no-take zones may increase the displacement costs for fishermen, depending on the MPA location and the distance the fishermen must travel,” says Claudet. “Enforcement costs and time at sea are also more expensive with larger MPAs than for smaller MPAs. And, finally, very large MPAs in coastal areas with high human densities may increase conflicts between different users and stakeholders due to potentially higher concentration of users outside the MPA, due to displacement. If the MPA is not well-enforced or if it cannot be accepted by the local communities due to the considerations stated above, the MPA will not be effective, whatever its objectives are.”

For more information: Joachim Claudet, Laboratory of Zoology and Marine Biology, DiSTeBA, University of Salento, CoNISMa, Italy. E-mail:

Web-based campaign launched for MPAs in U.K.

A new Web-based campaign to engage the public in planning MPAs in the U.K. – called Your Seas Your Voice – was announced at IMCC/IMPAC2. The Marine Conservation Society, a U.K. NGO, devised the campaign to compile data for informing regional MPA planning efforts, as well as to raise public awareness of the marine environment and the problems facing it.

The campaign website is Visitors are invited to tell the website about an ocean place they want to see protected. Through a six-step process, the visitor indicates that place on a map, describes why it is important (e.g., “Spectacular scenery”, “It is isolated and secret”), and suggests which activities if any should be prohibited there. The questionnaire also asks the visitor how he or she primarily uses the ocean, such as for recreation, commercial fishing, or industry.

The U.K. Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which sets out plans for a new network of marine conservation zones around Britain’s coast (MPA News 9:10), is currently under consideration by Parliament.

“We tested Your Seas Your Voice in Autumn 2008 by building a very simple version of the current website,” says Jean-Luc Solandt, Biodiversity Policy Officer for the Marine Conservation Society. “We learned that the information from the questionnaire was useful at identifying specific areas of U.K. coasts that were of importance to people who had a wildlife conservation interest. The main challenge now is to promote and engage the wider general public in completing the questionnaire – those who are not marine conservation specialists. Our aim is to make them feel they can and should enter the information. If we can engage a wider section of society, the stakeholder-led MPA development projects (such as Finding Sanctuary in Southwest England – should see that there is societal support for MPAs that extends beyond the usual range of stakeholder groups.” Solandt says he is interested to hear from MPA News readers on the Your Seas Your Voice approach and website, and the value of its results.

For more information: Jean-Luc Solandt, Marine Conservation Society, Ross on Wye, U.K. E-mail:

Case study: Tobago Cays Marine Park and stakeholder involvement

In a presentation at IMCC/IMPAC2 on Caribbean MPA governance, Patrick McConney of the University of the West Indies (Barbados) offered the case of Tobago Cays Marine Park. McConney described an unsuccessful attempt by the government of St. Vincent & the Grenadines to privatize the park in 2003. Stakeholder involvement played a role both in opposing that plan and in the park’s effective rebirth since then.

Consisting of five small, uninhabited islands and a horseshoe-shaped reef, the Tobago Cays are the Grenadines’ most popular anchorage for yachts, charter boats, and cruise lines. The government of St. Vincent & the Grenadines purchased the islands from a family in 1999 and began managing them as the Tobago Cays Marine Park. However, following years of lackluster management with meager budgets and low enforcement presence, the government entertained an offer from a private resort developer to take over management of the park. The plan involved building several structures on the islands. In addition, the private company would retain a portion of the park’s user fee revenue as profit.

Concerned by the idea of losing the islands to a private foreign company, citizens groups protested the plan and a new “Friends of the Tobago Cays” organization was formed to oppose privatization. Eventually, following months of political pressure, the privatization plan was dropped.

This essentially allowed TCMP a new beginning, says McConney. “TCMP was not impressive in assessments of co-management potential and MPA management effectiveness done in 2004 and 2005,” says McConney. “However it was selected as a demonstration site for an initiative called the Protected Areas and Associated Livelihoods Project (OPAAL), operated by the Environment and Sustainable Development Unit of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS-ESDU – In 2006, the TCMP was officially ‘re-launched’. It has received OPAAL and government support that has included policy-, livelihood-, and capacity-development studies; a management plan; infrastructure such as a patrol boat; additional staff; new user fees; and other revenue-generation arrangements. It has had a make-over.”

Although stakeholder involvement in current TCMP management is largely consultative rather than collaborative, says McConney, it is slowly approaching co-management. “Small MPAs such as the TCMP, which are used mainly for nautical tourism, can perhaps be run by a government office that has adequate capacity since it is primarily service-oriented,” he says. “However, the stakeholders still play an important role in informally monitoring and evaluating the state authority’s performance. A key point is to ensure that the informal and formal criteria for evaluating management effectiveness do not diverge as may happen when stakeholders are not closely involved. To address this, OPAAL places emphasis on communication for public awareness.”

For more information: Patrick McConney, University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados. E-mail:

Tobago Cays Marine Park website:

Next month: More news from IMCC/IMPAC2

In next month’s MPA News, we will report on more findings from IMCC/IMPAC2, including a feature on lessons learned from MPA networking efforts worldwide.

BOX: World Ocean Congress calls for more MPAs

The IMCC/IMPAC2 was not the only major ocean-related meeting in May. At the World Ocean Conference in Manado, Indonesia, representatives of 75 nations called for more and better-managed MPAs worldwide among other measures to manage the oceans more effectively. In their Manado Declaration, ministers resolved to “further establish and effectively manage marine protected areas, including representative resilient networks, […] recognizing the importance of their contribution to ecosystem goods and services, and to contribute to the effort to conserve biodiversity, sustainable livelihoods and to adapt to climate change.”