Selected tags: MPA

The Business of Marine Reserves: Achieving Financially Sustainable Ocean Conservation

photo credit: Phil's 1stPix via photopin cc

Ocean conservationists have been arguing for a long time that marine reserves are a good investment, because they help sustain many ecosystem services, including fisheries and tourism.  Various studies have helped to quantify the value generated by marine reserves, but a new study puts it all together and presents a convincing value proposition for marine reserves.  Now all we need are investors who can appreciate that value proposition and make it work economically, and the right combination of rules and governance that will make these new kinds of markets – ecomarkets – viable.

The benefits of marine reserves often outweigh the costs of establishing and maintaining them. You would think that there would be great demand for them, but instead the pace of marine reserve establishment has been slow and conflict-ridden.  Why? Because many groups of people benefit from the status quo, and would suffer short-term economic harm from marine reserves.  Also, the benefits of marine reserves take several years to accrue, while the costs are immediate.  And while some of the benefits are fairly concrete and flow to discrete user groups – like lower fishing costs and higher fishery yields near the borders – others are less concrete (e.g., biodiversity and aesthetics) and flow to many user groups (e.g. tourists and people who like natural environments), including some (e.g., future generations) that don’t have much say in present day decisions.

So theoretically, marine reserves can pay for themselves and then some.  But right now, few people want to invest in them.  How do we change that? Read More »

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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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