Human being and fish can coexist peacefully

… or at least that seems to be what Australia’s Opposition leader thinks would happen if he stopped the expansion of marine protected areas in Australian waters:

In a policy aimed at marginal Queensland seats, Mr Abbott said a Coalition government would ”immediately suspend the marine protection process which is threatening the livelihoods of many people in the fishing industry and many people in the tourism industry”.

”All of us want to see appropriate environmental protection, but man and nature have to live together,” Mr Abbott said as he toured the seat of Dawson, in Mackay, which is held by Labor by 2.6 per cent.

Citing “Real action to protect our marine environments and fishing communities” , Mr Abbott wants to balance environmental protection with economic growth by first suspending the marine protected area process. But doesn’t tourism in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park  generate billions of dollars for the Australian economy annually?

The GBRMP re-zoning that resulted in an increase in strict protection from 4.5% to over 30% was of course intiated under the previous Howard government, and undertaken through a comprehensive research and consultation process. According to Mr Abbott, things have  gone awry since then, although so far the details on this are scanty.

Coalition policy would require consideration of peer reviewed scientific evidence of threats to marine biodiversity before future decisions are made about marine park establishment:

“We would not be interested in just putting lines on maps. If there’s something out there that needs to be protected, if it’s iconic and needs protection, we’d want to see the science and that science would have to be peer-reviewed.”

Fortunately, there is already a lot out there to suggest that the marine environment is under threat, fishing kills fish and that marine parks have benefits for biodiversity and maintaining fish stocks. Conservation planning software used world wide, and developed in Queensland, is used to assist in the creation of marine parks  in a way that seeks to achieve protection for biodiversity while balancing socio-economic objectives.  The science is light years ahead of lines on maps (although, this can be helpful as part of the community consultation process).

It’s encouraging to see the high regard that Mr Abbott places upon peer reviewed science on this issue, so for someone who gets his ‘facts’ about climate change from Heaven + Earth, perhaps a bit of consistency wouldn’t go astray?

Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) gazetted in resource-poor areas of the seascape

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Theres a new paper out by Edgar et al in Ecological Applications that tracks the ecosystem effects of 14 MPA’s, and exploited companion sites, in southern Australia and Tanzania over a 16 year period.

The effects of the MPAs are interesting: biomass of large predators is on a steep increasing trend, while prey-species such as grazing molluscs and urchins are on a downward slope. I wonder what this will lead in terms of macroalgal abundances?

Another interesting finding is that

recently declared MPAs across Australia have been systematically located in areas with few fishery resources. Stakeholders with fishing interests presumably lobbied successfully against the “locking up” of exploitable fish stocks in SZs

I’ve stumbled upon many ecologists who tend to think that MPA’s are almost always designated in pristine areas, thus confounding interpretations of whether they are effective, i.e “the protected sites are healthy, not because they’re protected, but because they were healthy in the first place”. Those with more insights into how local resource users think and work will probably disagree on this, and usually claim the contrary, i.e. “people are pretty darn good at maneuvering the MPA-creation process so as not to include their best fishing grounds”. This study provides compelling evidence of the latter:

The abstract summarizes things nicely:

Tasmanian reef communities within ‘‘no-take’’ marine protected areas (MPAs) exhibited direct and indirect ecological changes that increasingly manifested over 16 years, eventually transforming into communities not otherwise present in the regional seascape. Data from 14 temperate and subtropical Australian MPAs further demonstrated that ecological changes continue to develop in MPAs over at least two decades, probably much longer. The continent-scale study additionally showed recently established MPAs to be consistently located at sites with low resource value relative to adjacent fished reference areas. This outcome was presumably generated by sociopolitical pressures and planning processes that aim to systematically avoid locations with valuable resources, potentially compromising biodiversity conservation goals. Locations that were formerly highly fished are needed within MPA networks if the networks are to achieve conservation aims associated with (1) safeguarding all regional habitat types, (2) protecting threatened habitats and species, and (3) providing appropriate reference benchmarks for assessing impacts of fishing. Because of long time lags, the ubiquity of fishing impacts, and the relatively recent establishment of MPAs, the full impact of fishing on coastal reefs has yet to be empirically assessed.

Bush establishes three massive marine parks

President George Bush has made good on his commitment to protect large areas of the Pacific from fishing:

WASHINGTON — Parts of three remote and uninhabited Pacific island chains are being set aside by President George W. Bush as national monuments to protect them from oil and gas extraction and commercial fishing in what will be the largest marine conservation effort in history.

The three areas -totaling some 195,274 square miles – include the Mariana Trench and the waters and corals surrounding three uninhabited islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa and seven islands strung along the equator in the central Pacific Ocean.

It will be the second time Bush has used the law to protect marine resources. Two years ago, the president made a huge swath of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a national monument, barring fishing, oil and gas extraction and tourism from its waters and coral reefs. At the time, that area was the largest conservation area in the world.

Read the entire story here

Update: no, this is not a hoax!

Climate change pushes coral decline – Western Australian

The Western Australian, 1st December 2008

The world’s marine reserves may be helping to restore local fish populations, but they are failing to protect fragile coral reefs from the harsh effects of global warming, a conference has heard.

Data collected from 8540 coral reefs in the Indian, Caribbean and Pacific regions from 1987 to 2005 show the rate of coral decline with warmer temperatures is just the same in marine reserves as in highly fished areas.

Associate Professor John Bruno from the University of North Carolina in the United States, who conducted the research, has told the Ecological Society’s annual conference the results should sound a warning bell for reef managers who believe marine reserves are more resistant to climate change.

“The biggest stresses put on coral reefs are ocean warming and disease outbreaks,” Mr Bruno told the conference at the University of Sydney on Monday.

“These stresses are regional and global in scale and local protection in marine reserves is unlikely to help these reefs resist such changes.

“Marine reserves are very important for protecting fish populations, maintaining coral reef food webs and protecting against anchor damage, but they are unlikely to reduce coral losses due to global warming,” he added.

The key to restoring and protecting coral from climate change lay in long-term regional and global strategies to combat its root causes, such as carbon dioxide emissions, Mr Bruno said.

Bush administration considering two massive Pacific marine reserves

One of the many big political surprises in the US yesterday was news that the Bush administration was considering implementing two or more massive marine reserves in US territories in the Pacific.  The move  would protect some of the regions most remote coral reefs.  What isn’t so surprising is that, according to the Washington Post, über vice president Dick Cheney is trying to scale back or block Bush’s plans (doesn’t the former work for the latter?).

Read the whole story in the Washington Post here.

President Bush’s vision for protecting two vast areas of the Pacific Ocean from fishing and mineral exploitation, a move that would constitute a major expansion of his environmental legacy, is running into dogged resistance both inside and outside the White House and has placed his wife and his vice president on opposite sides of the issue.

In 2006 he designated the nearly 140,000-square-mile Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands, creating what at the time was the world’s largest protected marine area. Scientists have advocated designating more such areas to protect them from the effects of overfishing, pollution and global warming, which are degrading oceans worldwide.

“There’s pretty strong evidence that everyone will benefit from the establishment of no-take reserves,” said Jane Lubchenco, a professor of marine biology at Oregon State University, adding that fish populations rebound both within the protected reserves and in nearby fishing grounds. “The administration made a major step forward in designating the Papahanaumokuakea National Monument, but that one alone is not enough to protect the full range of places and habitats and species that need to be protected. It will be part of [Bush’s] legacy, but his ocean and environmental legacy could be much, much more.”

One of the two marine reserves, or “marine conservation management areas”, includes a wide swath of the central Pacific ocean and some of the world’s most remote and pristine coral reefs, such as Kingman Atoll in the Line Islands.

Sadly, the article also highlights how close we came to having some similar reserves implemented closer to the continental US:

Bush initially explored the idea of establishing other protected areas closer to U.S. shores, including one off the southeastern coast near a group of deep-sea corals and another in the Gulf of Mexico. After commercial and recreational fishing interests and oil companies objected, the administration decided to pursue existing resource-management plans in those areas instead.

Political analysts interpret these moves as an attempt by Bush to build some sort of legacy before leaving office in early 2009.  We should know later in the year whether any of his planned reserves are indeed implemented.  And if they aren’t, I suspect the next president will be even more amenable to such logical solutions to some of our major environmental crises.

“Protecting places like this is one of the few things a sitting president can do that will live on in posterity and be remembered long after the other decrees and orders have been forgotten,”  said Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environmental Group.  “It would signal to the nation and the world that the sea needs to be treated as a threatened resource, and it will open up an era of global ocean conservation.”

Claudia McMurray, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for oceans, environment and science, said the administration will be “working up until the last week” of Bush’s term on the initiatives.  “While it would take a significant amount of work, we haven’t ruled it out,” she said. “We feel fairly confident, scientifically, there are so many unique species in that area, from that standpoint, we think it’s important to wall off as much as we can.”