Tag Archives: Marine Protected Areas

Protecting Cuba's Abundant Coral Reefs

Two of the authors, Doug Rader and Dan Whittle with a goliath grouper.

*Re-posted with permission from Sailors for the Sea

This month's ocean watch essay comes to us from theEnvironmental Defense Fund(EDF), and was written by:Dan Whittle the senior attorney at Environmental Defense Fund and director of its Cuba ProgramDoug Rader, PhD, EDF's Chief Oceans Scientist, and Violet Dixon the Marketing Communications Associate for EDF's Oceans program. All images by Noel Lopez Fernandez.

In the waters off the Southeast coast of Cuba there's a near-pristine coral reef reserve called Jardines de la Reina, or the Gardens of the Queen. In this national park, groupers, snappers and many other reef fish flourish, along with several species of sharks. Although many of the world's best-known reefs face destruction in the face of global warming and other threats, large portions of the Gardens of the Queen remain remarkably healthy. Relative isolation from human influence helps make Cuba's coral reefs unique. Protecting these ecosystems — and species that rely on them — requires careful collaboration and cooperation among managers, scientists, fishermen and local fishing communities. Well-designed marine protected areas (MPAs), combined with innovative fisheries management, are the foundation for both sustainable commercial and recreational fisheries and a thriving eco-tourism sector.The abundance of big predators, like these Caribbean reef sharks, is a sure sign of an ecosystem in balance. The Gardens has six to eight times as many sharks as elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Seeing under the sea
Healthy coral reefs, mangrove swamps and seagrass beds support thriving fish populations, which in turn support local fishing communities and attract ocean enthusiasts. Scuba divers come from around the world, for example, to witness the myriad of sea animals and breathtaking underwater ecosystems in the Gardens of the Queen.

On these dives, they encounter numerous species of shark including Caribbean reef sharks, silky sharks, nurse sharks and occasional lemon and blacktip sharks.  Depending on the season and other factors, visitors also occasionally encounter whale sharks, the largest known fish species. Read More »

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‘Finding the Ways that Work’ in California Fisheries

By Guest Blogger, Huff McGonigal, fisheries consultant to EDF and the lead on our California fisheries projects with the spiny lobster fishery.

Spiny Lobster

Spiny Lobster

For the last 10 years, California has been working to create one of the most extensive networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the world.  When it’s complete later this year, this network will help protect California marine ecosystem for generations to come.  But while MPAs will form a cornerstone for marine management in the state, simply closing these areas to fishing will not ensure sustainable fisheries off California.  Healthy fisheries, and the communities and jobs that depend on them, require that focus now be shifted to effective management of the 84% of state waters that remain outside the MPA network.

The challenge in California, as in many states, is the persistent lack of agency resources available to move fisheries management forward in a meaningful way.  This is exacerbated by a progressive law in California called the Marine Life Management Act that requires that fisheries be managed under Fishery Management Plans (FMPs).  While the law’s concept of holistic management is a good one, the expense of creating these plans has largely kept them from being developed and management regimes have therefore remained stuck.

In 2008 EDF was approached by leaders of the spiny lobster fishery who were seeking to better control their fishing effort in order to maintain the fishery’s sustainability and economic viability.  There was concern in the fishery that every year there was increasing pressure for fishermen to use more and more traps in order to compete for lobster and for fishing grounds.    Further, as fishing grounds are lost to MPAs, fishing will be squeezed into an even smaller area, making these problems more acute.  However, the requirement that change be carried out through a FMP presented a major obstacle.  The state’s budget problems were worse than ever and the traditional approach, where the Department of Fish and Game (DFG) develops the FMP internally, was not possible.  DFG and the fishery both agreed to try a new approach where DFG retained oversight of the process but where the majority of development would be carried out by contracted, outside expertise.  EDF worked hand in hand with industry,  DFG, and other partners to develop a budget and a broadly supported grant proposal to the Ocean Protection Council to secure the funding necessary to make this new model a reality.

After an extensive peer review, the Ocean Protection Council funded the full request amount of $990,000.  In doing so it formally opened a new avenue for new fisheries management tools and approaches in California.  Not only will this allow the lobster fishery to adjust to the new MPA network, but it represents a scalable model where national and international expertise can be directly engaged in FMP development and for a third of the cost of traditional FMPs.

There is now a pathway in California for coupling and integrating the MPA network with thoughtful, strategic management of fisheries – where closed areas are complemented by well managed open areas, and vice versa.   To do this successfully will establish California as a true leader in ocean governance, and in the end, this is what it will take to ensure a healthy ecosystem, sustainable fisheries, and strong fishing communities.

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Isle of Youth: Exploring Cuba’s Marine Sanctuaries

Dan Whittle in Cuba near Isla de la Juventud with one of EDF's Cuban marine partners.

Dan Whittle in Cuba near Isla de la Juventud with one of EDF's Cuban marine partners.

The remote and sparsely populated Isla de la Juventud (“Isle of Youth”) sits off the southwestern coast of Cuba, the largest island in the Canarreos Archipelago.  Legend has it that pirates, including the infamous Sir Francis Drake and Henry Morgan, sought refuge in its hidden bays  between exploits in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Once known as Isla de Tesoros, it is said that the island inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write his novel, Treasure Island.

Last month I joined a group of Cuban and American scientists on a three day trip to the Isle of Youth to examine a new effort to protect and expand Cuba’s extensive network of marine sanctuaries.  On the southwestern part of the island—and not far from where the pirates hid – is Punta Frances, a national park and marine protected area that now provides refuge for endangered manatees, hawksbill sea turtles, and American crocodiles and many other forms of marine life.  Siguanea Bay, where we stayed, and the broader Canarreos – enclosing the Gulf of Batabano – are ecologically rich, boasting some of the healthiest and most intact coral reefs in the region.  The area is also economically important, home to highly productive lobster, shark and finfish fisheries. 

Two lobster boats in Coloma, one of Cuba’s most important fishing ports.”

Lobster boats in Coloma, one of Cuba’s most important fishing ports.

The highlight of the trip was sighting four manatees in the mangrove-lined channels in the park.  Scientists and fishermen in the area are now working together to track and protect these magnificent critters.  Scientists worked with fishermen on the island to end the harvest of sea turtles in Cuban waters and are now developing a joint initiative to protect them. 

These efforts are part of an impressive 5-year project launched by Cuban officials to protect and sustain marine and coastal ecosystems around the Isle of Youth and along most of Cuba’s southern coast.  This initiative, funded in large part by the Global Environment Facility, is designed to end overfishing, protect marine  life, and improve management of the extensive network of marine parks and sanctuaries. 

Next month, colleagues and I will return to the Isle of Youth for a workshop that EDF is holding with partners from Cuba, Mexico and the United States.  The workshop will bring together fishermen, scientists, resource managers, and conservationists to discuss innovative strategies to meet common goals of protected area management and fisheries management.

Stay tuned!

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Cabinet of Belize Approves Catch Shares in Belize's Network of Marine Protected Areas

Catch shares team in Belize from Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Belize Fisheries Department.

Catch shares team in Belize from Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Belize Fisheries Department.

"Fish Forever" – the motto of Belize's fishermen.  Last week the Government of Belize in partnership with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) took a major step towards fulfilling that vision with a vote by Belize's cabinet to authorize the implementation of catch shares in its network of marine protected areas. 

"Belize's decision will protect the country’s magnificent Mesoamerican Reef and promote the vitality of its fishing industry,” said Larry Epstein, Mesoamerican Reef Program Manager for EDF, "This substantially adds to the growing list of successful conservation measures Belize is using to preserve its oceans for future generations.”

As a first step, the Belize Fisheries Department will implement their design for TURFs and catch limits for spiny lobster in 2011 and 2012 in Glover's Reef and Port Honduras Marine Reserves.  Belize has already taken the first steps for allocating access to TURFs, creating a monitoring regime, and creating committees of fishermen to participate in the implementation and management of catch shares.

"Catch shares will assist in enforcing marine laws and ensure that fishermen are part and parcel of the enforcement, and respected as custodians because it will be part of their livelihoods that they will be protecting."

– Hon. Rene Montero, Belize Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Cooperatives

In 2009 EDF created a partnership between the Government of Belize Fisheries Department, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the leading Belizean conservation NGO – the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE).  Our coalition achieved this milestone in Belize through an education campaign that engaged fishermen, policy makers, elected officials, and government managers of marine reserves.  EDF's team of economists, scientists, and catch shares experts built Belize's technical capacity for catch shares and helped develop the catch share design – including Rod Fujita, Kate Bonzon, Laura Rodriguez, Jake Kritzer, Doug Rader, Tom Lalley, and Tesia Love.   The Government of Belize has stated a vision for catch shares in all marine reserves, and for the commercial lobster fishery. 

Monkey River, Belize Fishing Boats

Monkey River Fishing Boats in Belize

Fishermen in Belize understand first-hand and have been advocating catch shares since EDF, WCS, and TIDE began working in their communities.  According to one fisherman from Placencia, a fishing community in southern Belize, “Every year for the past ten years we have had a decline in lobster production.  That is due to, I think, to overfishing and a general decline in product itself.”  Now Belize and its fishermen have a tool at their disposal that protects its oceans, while at the same time supporting the livelihoods and food security for the people that depend on its resources.

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Innovative Fisheries Management Tools Can Help Further Protect Glover's Reef and Other Areas in Belize

Conch diver in Belize

Conch diver in Belize.

Erik Olsen presents a balanced perspective on management and conditions a Glover's Reef Marine Reserve in Belize in "Protected Reef Offers Model for Conservation" (New York Times, Science, April 27, 2010) and "On Patrol with the Reef Ranger" (New York Times, Green Blog, April 27, 2010).  The Government of Belize has worked well with NGOs and fishermen to establish and maintain this reserve, no easy task when resources are limited.  The abundant sea life and recovering sharks and rays are evidence of excellent performance at this site.

But, Glover's Reef and other areas in Belize are under increasing pressure from overfishing.  Indicators of this include an unsustainable increase in the number of fishermen, the decline in catch of targeted high-value species such as lobster and grouper, and an increase in the catching of parrotfish – a species critical for maintaining the health of the reef.  The question for managers, conservationists, and fishermen is how to integrate sustainable fisheries management with the marine reserve to prevent and even reverse overfishing in the reserves.

Community meeting of fishermen in Belize.

Community meeting of fishermen in Belize.

In response to the threat of overfishing, Environmental Defense Fund, Wildlife Conservation Society, Belize Fisheries Department and Belizean fishermen communities have partnered on an initiative to protect and restore fisheries at Glover's Reef and elsewhere in Belize through the implementation of innovative, incentive-based tools for fisheries management. 

One of the major causes of overfishing at Glover's Reef is that it is an open access fishery.  While this creates an opportunity for all to catch fish, it is also encouraging fishermen to catch too much fish too quickly.  As fish populations get depleted, the health of the reef suffers and fishermen livelihoods become vulnerable.  To solve this problem fishermen must either agree to end the competition and cooperate to sustainably harvest fish (cooperative fishing); or incentives can be put into place to encourage such behavior by empowering fishermen with secure shares of the catch or access to fishing grounds (catch share management). 

This initiative builds on the science and management work already underway at Glover's Reef – the catch data collection that is critical to the implementation of a catch share program, and monitoring the overall ecosystem health of the atoll.  Cooperative fishing and catch shares will also enable local community groups to play a more central role in the management of their fisheries, including implementing the enforcement and monitoring necessary for sustainable management.

Glover's Reef is a jewel, and a critical space for the livelihoods of fishermen and health of Belize's Barrier Reef and the Mesoamerican marine ecosystem.  Linking good fisheries management with MPAs is a critical step to ensure that current and future generations enjoy and benefit from its resources.

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