Marine National Parks (MNPs) have been established in some places for many years, ensuring that there is now access to reliable scientific research demonstrating their benefits and effects. They vary in scale, but they all represent a visionary step on behalf of the governments and groups who have established them. Here are a few examples of successfull MNPs, including one very close to home.
Maria Island Marine Reserve, Tasmania, Australia
Established in 1991 to protect local biodiversity, this reserve covers seven kilometres of coast, half of which is fully protected and half which is open to fishing. Research has been conducted in the fully protected area for over a decade providing excellent information on long-term trends and changes.
The heavily fished rock lobster species experienced a three-fold increase in total abundance and a five-fold increase in biomass of mature individuals during a decade of protection, whilst size and numbers of lobsters remained the same outside the reserve. Another heavily fished species in the area is abalone, whose individual size has increased slowly over time in the reserve, however overall numbers have declined. This is thought to be due to more predators (larger lobsters) eating them, creating a more natural equilibrium which supports less abalone. Ecosystem and habitat effects have also been positively linked to a 40% decrease in urchin abundance, which is believed to be due to the increased presence of large lobster and fish predators. This decrease in urchin abundance in turn leads to an increase in kelp and algal coverage, which then provides more food and habitat for other species as well.
Leigh Marine Reserve, New Zealand
Situated on the rocky coast of New Zealand’s North Island, this small reserve covers just 5.2 square kilometres extending 800m from the shore, and was established in 1977 as one of the world’s first fully protected Marine National Parks.
Originally the reserve received fierce opposition, particularly from fishers. However after ten years, research began to show that populations of commercially important species were bouncing back and public sentiment changed. By the mid-80s rock lobster populations were believed to be replenishing and fishers began to prefer to fish close to the boundaries and report illegal poaching. Research supports this, with Snapper fish abundance increasing by almost 900%, and spiny lobsters increasing by almost 400%. This in turn kept the urchin populations in check and allowed kelp forests to regenerate. Kelp has recovered almost completely within the reserve compared to areas outside the reserve that are dominated by urchin barren.
Within seven years of its establishment, the reserve received 14,000 visitors per year, a number which increased to 100,000 after 17 years (1994). This huge rise in tourism led to the enhancement of local amenities, including new dive shops, camping facilities, glass bottom boat operations and a marine education centre. This increase in users highlights the need to ensure that any activities, even non-extractive ones, need to be managed sustainably in order to minimize impacts on the environment and wildlife in fully protected areas.
Kisite Marine Reserve, Kenya
Established in 1973, this coral reef wasn ot fully protected until the 1990’s. In 1996, the nearby Tanzanian government created the Mtang’ata Collaborative Management Area in a similar coral reef ecosystem, but only restricted the most damaging fishing activities such as dynamite fishing, beach seining, fish poisoning and dragging nets. Studies done on the fish, coral and seaweeds of these two areas were compared with each other and with unprotected reefs. Overall both areas had more fish and biodiversity than unprotected areas, however the effectiveness of the Mtang’ata Collaborative Management Area was less than the fully protected Kisite marine reserve. At Kisite, fish abundance (biomass) was almost three times higher than the fished management area and almost twelve times greater than the unprotected areas. Species diversity was also substantially higher in the fully protected area.
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati
In 2006 the Republic of Kiribati declared the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), then doubled it in 2008 to secure the largest marine reserve in the world! Comprised of eight coral atolls and two submerged reef systems over 410,500-square-kilometres, PIPA is the sanctuary of 120 species of coral and 520 species of fish, some of which have not been studied before.
The establishment of this reserve is not only a ecological boon, but also a valuable exercise is recalibrating the small island’s economy away from the monies that would have been received for international fishing permits in the area that is now a conservation zone.
The Mariana Trench National Marine Monument
Declared in January 2009, the Mariana Marine Trench Monument covers 505,757 square kilometres and includes the waters and corals surrounding Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa, and seven islands along the equator in the central Pacific Ocean. Active volcanoes, smoking undersea vents and the deepest canyon on earth typifies how the aquatic environment is linked to the land as the islands within the park host seabirds, endangered and threatened populations of sea turtles, a variety of marine mammals and giant coconut crabs (the largest land-living arthropod in the world).