The contribution of very large marine protected areas to marine conservation: Giant leaps or smoke and mirrors?

Rebecca L. Singleton and Callum M. Roberts
Marine Pollution Bulletin 87, 2014, 7 – 10
“When it comes to marine protected areas, one might expect conservation groups to say bigger is better” (7). This statement warrants extra attention with news coming from the POTUS this past week. With a stroke of a pen Friday, President Obama quadrupled the size of Papahānaumokuākea National Monument – making it as large as its name, quipped Matt Ford of The Atlantic. In turn, the President has created the largest protected marine reserve in the world.
According to Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz, who submitted the proposal for expansion, “This is one of the most important actions an American president has ever taken for the health of the oceans.” But researchers Rebecca Singleton and Callum Roberts raise legitimate questions to the assumption that “bigger is better” with Marine Protected Areas, and cite Papahānaumokuākea as a case study in why. Those within the scientific committee are the quickest to look a gift horse in the mouth and question the effectiveness of these areas, perhaps even more than the fishing and freight industries which you might expect. In this paper, the authors attempt to determine whether the scientific community’s criticism is justified.
In the case of Papahānaumokuākea, the reserve is largely removed from population centers – one critique of large marine protected areas as a whole. Such measures, therefore, do not confront the biggest marine issues today – overfishing, tourism, and pollution being the biggest offenders – and still allow for the provision of ecosystem services. Large marine protected areas tend to avoid those “hot-spot” regions where resources are rich, biodiversity is high, and are in contest with equally high demand.
While large marine protected areas are not perfect, they should by no means be discounted. According to the authors, it is an oversimplification to state that governments and NGOs are only prioritizing size over quality. There is no question that governments are looking for good metrics to quantify success in their conservation efforts, and size has been one straightforward means by which to do this. It becomes the responsibility of the scientific community – with continued support by governments and NGOs – to improve our definitions of success moving forward.
To access the full paper, CLICK HERE.

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