Community Involvement Essential for the Success of Marine Reserves

hanauma bay marine preserve photo

Image credit: gadgetdude/Flickr

Marine reserves are designed to protect fish, plants, and the reef ecosystems they populate but another factor is integral to their success. Human populations, a recent study shows, have the capacity to help or hurt conservation. Furthermore, research showed, human interactions with the reserves have some surprising consequences.The study, led by researchers at the University of Rhode Island, examined 127 marine protected areas around the world. Richard Pollnac, a professor of anthropology and marine affairs at URI, explained:

We make a big mistake thinking that a marine reserve is just about coral, fish and other aquatic organisms...they are also composed of the people who can make them succeed or fail and who are either helped or hurt by them.

Researchers found—perhaps unsurprisingly—that reserves in which compliance to conservation rules was the highest saw the greatest increases in biomass and ecosystem health. More interesting, however, was that high compliance rates were not maintained by surveillance and enforcement but rather by direct participation by community members and leaders.

Another surprising finding was the relationship between population density and marine reserve health. In the Caribbean, high density had a negative effect on marine health, while in the Philippines high density had no noticeable effect. The real surprise, however, was in the Western Indian Ocean where there was a correlation between high human population densities and healthier marine reserves.

Researchers speculated that increased fishing pressure outside the reserve might explain some of the disparities but said that they could not draw a strong conclusion.

Still, the survey showed that incorporating people into the planning and management of a reserve is key to the area's success. Pollnac explained:

If you can demonstrate...that the reserve will have more fish while also providing benefits to the community, and if you pay attention to the needs of the people, then there's a much greater chance that the reserve will be a success.

"It's important to recognize," he added, "that people are part of the ecology of marine reserves."

Read more about marine reserves:
Coral Can Recover from Climate Change Damage... In Marine Reserves
6 Steps to Saving the World's Coral Reefs
Bush Plan for Marine Preserve Threatened By His Own Vice President

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