The benefit of Marine Protected Areas

 In MPA, Zamboanguita

In the last three years Marine Protected Ares (MPAs) have popped up all over the place. The even better news is that it almost looks like there’s a competition for each new MPA to wants to have the title biggest MPA in the world. The last two substantial added MPA’s are the Ross Sea in the Arctics and Hawaii. That means 3% of our oceans is now an MPA and 1% is an actual no-take zone. We are still a long stretch away from the proposed 10% of protected coastal and marine areas by 2020, but we are making progress at least

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in Hawaii is 1.5 mil square kilometers and the biggest Marine Protected Area in the world. It is one of the few MPAs that is actually 100% a no-take zone. Humpback whales stay here part of the year, the endangered Hawaian monk seals are protected and so are another 7000 different sea creatures, which implies it is definitely an area worth protecting. The Ross Sea is the largest MPA of the Southern Ocean with 1.1 mil square km. It is located in international waters and it took 5 long years of negotiating the establishing. (It had the interesting additional rule that it expires after 35 years.)

Within an MPA, or actually within a Marine Reserve, there are usually different zones where different things are allowed. The no-take zone where no fishing is allowed is the most important zone, because in this area the fish get the opportunity to grow up, mature and multiply without outside interference. After a while both biomass and diversity will increase. Not only of fish but also of invertebrates and coral. Most MPAs are created to either protect a habitat or endangered population of specific sea creatures.

MPA-wise the Philippines is a special country with the staggering amount of 1600 Marine Protected Areas. That certainly sounds like a lot, but most of the MPAs are very small; about a hectare. That is mostly because neighbourhoods, or barangays, are responsible for their own part of the municipal waters. The border of the MPA is usually the border of the barangay. Creating an MPA is a first step, but it is worth nothing if the MPA is not properly enforced and managed.

Enforcement of MPAs is easier said then done, especially if MPAs are very large. While in the Philipines it is often enough to have the Bantay Dagat (literally translated “sea watchers”) enforcing an MPA; usually a team of two persons who are patrolling on the beach 24/7, in larger MPAs of hundred of square kilometers, you’ll need some additional help such as satellite or other aerial surveillance which inform you if a boat enters an MPA and a fast response team – something which is hard to organise, as evidenced by the Tanon Strait in the Philippines.

As we see firsthand at Marine Conservation Philippines even enforcing small scale MPAs is a challenge. Currently there are three MPA’s in our municipality and a fourth is in the developmental phase. However, as the salary of the enforcers is low and working hours are long – there aren’t many people who would like to have this job, so you can imagine the challenge. On top of that the patrol boat of the municipality is often out of order, so apprehending illegal fishing boats is not easy either. None the less, challenges aside, we have a lot of respect for the twenty men who signed up for the job a month ago and we will at least be able to assist them with demarcation of the MPAs, regular beach and dive clean-ups, augment their salary (through a signed agreement with the municipality) and teach them how to scuba dive. Their job is slightly easier compared to enforcers in other countries, because the locals living in the barangays are actually the ones who proposed the MPAs in the first place and do not mind ‘giving up’ their fishing area, because they realize that in the long term an MPA is also beneficial for the fish stock around the MPA. This is the so called ‘spillover effect’ where the areas adjacent to MPAs also benefits because both the fish and the larvae go past the border of the MPA. It doesn’t matter whether you want to have an MPA from an ecological perspective or an economical perspective; the result is an increase in biomass and diversity which is why this principle works so well in the Philippines; it benefits a lot of people!

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