ConservationMarine Protected Areas

Marine Protected Areas

Despite the difficulties in investigating the marine environment, human impact on the sea is clearly considerable. Long-term strategies are required for the conservation of populations and habitats in response to human activities that have caused, or can cause, a negative effect on their status. One of the most common approaches to marine conservation is the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). Although their effectiveness is the subject of much discussion, MPAs are considered nowadays as important tools for the conservation of biodiversity by many international frameworks (e.g. Barcelona Convention 1976; Bern Convention 1979; ASCOBANS 1991; OSPAR 1992; ACCOBAMS 1996; European Union’s Habitat Directive 1992).

MPAs or marine reserves offer a solution to some of the challenges of the management of the marine environment. They allow the focusing of some conservation efforts or management actions at a geographical scale that is more tangible for the general public. In this way, marine reserves can allow the organisation of human activities through zoning, at the same time as preserving the natural attributes of the region and its value as a tool for public awareness and education.

MPAs may be the right solution in some cases for the conservation of certain critical habitats for feeding, reproduction or migration of some marine species. Nevertheless, their success as a conservation and management mechanism will depend on an adequate designation based on scientific studies of the habitats and species to be protected, and also on the involvement of the stakeholders with socio-economic interests in the area. Only when these requisites are fulfilled and when the management of the MPA is the result of a consensus in which all parties are benefited, can its viability and usefulness be possible.

In the selection of candidate MPAs in this work, we follow largely the process suggested by Salm et al. (2000) because no formal selection process for these areas exists. According to these authors, the initial step is to define the conservation objectives for the MPA. Once these have been agreed, the selection process should include four steps: (1) data collection (including bibliographic compilation and collection of new data with respect to the target species, human activities and threats); (2) analysis of the data (to determine the areas with concentrations of the target species, human activities and threats to the species); (3) data synthesis (to create maps to help establish the priorities for protection and a better understanding of the spatial relationships among the target species, ecological processes and human activities); and (4) application of selection criteria (to ensure objectivity in site selection, according to the objectives and the legal framework on which they are based).

In summary, the creation of MPAs may represent a step in the conservation process, and can help improve administrations and the public, without which the probability of success would be small. However, without an appropriate implementation of management plans, the MPAs would only represent ‘paper parks’ providing a false impression of conservation success. As a general rule, the designation of MPAs should not be considered as an alternative to intelligent conservation and management of the marine environment as a whole. The effectiveness of an MPA will depend on its initial objectives, its design (especially its limits) and its implementation. The critical steps are to establish clearly quantifiable conservation objectives, to develop a solid long-term management plan to reach these objectivesand to establish an effective monitoring programme to determine if the conservation objectives are being accomplished. 

In this sense, in 2011 Alnilam carried out the project “Identification of the critical areas for ziphids in the Alboran Sea, delimitation of the Priority Area for Conservation, and basis for the establishment of a Management Plan”. Funded by the Ministerio de Medio Ambiente y Medio Rural y Marino. 

See summary of the project here: Ziphids Project Alborán




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