More and more marine protected areas are being established in a bid to protect our planet's marine biodiversity, but a study has revealed that many of them are not being fully utilised due to personnel and funding issues.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an effective and proven conservation strategy to protect marine biodiversity. In the last two years, over 2.6 million square kilometres have been added to the area covered by MPAs, bringing the total to over 14.9 million square kilometres.
However, a new four-year study has revealed that many MPAs are prevented from fulfilling their full potential due to a lack of personnel and funds.
In their research, Dr David Gill (a David H Smith Research Fellow at Conservation International and George Mason University) and his team had compiled and analysed the site management and fish population data of 589 MPAs worldwide. They sought to find out whether MPAs were meeting their social and ecological objectives, whether they were being managed effectively and equitably, and how we can ensure that MPAs delivered on their ecological and social objectives.
They discovered that while fish populations grew in 71 percent of MPAs studied, the level of recovery was strongly linked to the management of the sites. And at MPAs with sufficient manpower, the level of recovery was three times greater than those with insufficient staff. In fact, only 9 percent of the MPAs reported having sufficient staff.
In the area of funding, only 35 percent of MPAs reported having acceptable funding levels.
“We set out to understand how well marine protected areas are performing and why some perform better than others. What we found was that while most marine protected areas increased fish populations, including MPAs that allow some fishing activity, these increases were far greater in MPAs with adequate staff and budget,” said Dr Gill, who conducted the research during a postdoctoral fellowship supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center and the Luc Hoffmann Institute.
“These results highlight the potential for an infusion of resources and staff at established MPAs–and at MPAs in the pipeline–to enhance MPA management and ensure that MPAs realise their full potential,” said Dr Helen Fox of the National Geographic Society, who led the research initiative together with Dr Michael B Mascia of Conservation International.
“The good news is that this is a solvable problem. MPAs perform better when they have enough staff and an adequate budget.”