A marine reserve manifesto:
general theory and policy for marine reserves

Dr W. J. Ballantine, Leigh Marine Laboratory, New Zealand
 
Revised February  2006

 b.ballantine@auckland.ac.nz

   

Marine reserves have been discussed for many years, and there are now examples in many countries.  We know that they are practical and that, once established, they are generally popular and successful.  We have carried out enough trials and tests.  It is time to create full systems of marine reserves.  To do this we need a clear policy based on principles that everyone can understand.

In 2004, experts on marine biodiversity presented a report for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity that provides the necessary principles.  (The report is available in PDF format at http://www.biodiv.org/doc/publications/cbd-ts-13.pdf.)  I have crafted the following manifesto to summarize these principles in plain language:

1. There are many kinds of marine life (species diversity), these occur in many different habitats and communities, and they interact in many ways. Marine life existed before people became active in the sea, and it maintained itself.

2. This natural marine life is abundant, varied and complex. It occupies 70% of our world. It carries out many processes that are important to the planet. Marine life is far more than a set of things directly useful to people, but we are only dimly aware of how the whole system operates.

3. Despite increasing rates of study, we are still very ignorant about marine life. Less than half the species have been described, few regions have had their habitats mapped, and we only know some examples of the natural processes. We do not know how much of anything is necessary to sustain the whole in a healthy state, but it is clear that the natural processes are critical to all life on the planet.

4. Many human activities in the sea (fishing, dumping, dredging, etc.) can kill or degrade marine life and its habitats. The range and intensity of human-induced damage have increased over the years; have already caused multiple and widespread changes to marine life; and now threaten its sustainability.

5. Our existing ways of planning and managing human activities in the sea are useful and necessary, but they are not sufficient to prevent or adequately control this damage. Existing management mostly tries to solve problems, but the problems (e.g. damage) have to occur and be noticed before action is taken (reactive management).

6. More positive action is also needed. Setting aside areas of the sea (marine reserves) which are protected against all direct human interference will help maintain (or restore) the full natural biological diversity.

7. These marine reserves will have many additional benefits. They will make it easier for people to appreciate and understand natural marine life. They will help us recognise the changes our activities have caused, and distinguish these from natural variation. Marine reserves will help us measure these changes, and show how we could adjust our activities sensibly. Marine reserves are important to science, management, education, and recreation; as well as essential for conservation.

8. Marine reserves are a new, different and additional form of management. They do not aim to solve particular problems, simply to maintain the natural biodiversity. They do not depend on particular information (e.g. identifying damage), all potentially-disturbing activities are excluded on principle. Problem-based, data-dependent planning and management will continue in the rest of the sea.

9. Standard planning will steadily improve. The introduction of zoning is one such improvement. When zoning is adopted in a region, marine reserves will be included as the first and most important zone. Indeed reserves will help lead to this form of management.

10. All these points are universal. They apply everywhere, and are independent of climate, the marine life that occurs, what people are doing to it, or who is in charge. To maintain (or recover) the full natural marine life, marine reserves are needed in all regions. In each region the reserves must form a system which is sufficiently large and comprehensive to be self-sustaining despite human activities in the rest of the sea.

Each region requires a policy which includes the following principles:

11. The reserves are highly protected.  All potentially damaging human activities are banned on principle, as far as is practical and sensible.  These rules are efficiently enforced.

12. The reserves are permanent.  The basic reasons for reserves are valid for the foreseeable future, and the benefits and values of reserves accumulate over time.

13.  Each reserve aims for the ability to maintain itself.  Single reserves cannot be totally self-sufficient unless enormous, but each should aim for a reasonable degree of ecological viability (i.e., capacity to maintain itself).

14. Examples of all major habitats are included in reserves.  Different habitats have different marine life, so all must be represented.

15. There are several spatially separate examples of each habitat.  This replication provides insurance against local accidents, such as cyclones or oil spills, and allows inclusion of a more natural range of variation.

16. The reserves are spread throughout the region (a network).  There are many reasons for a network design, including encouraging the interchange of drifting eggs and larvae, and spreading benefits and any inconvenience.

17.  Public interest is actively encouraged.  For all reserves, active measures are taken to provide visual material (photographs, film, video, etc.) and written information (maps, articles, books, web sites, etc.).  Direct public access is actively encouraged where it can be arranged with minimal damage.

18. Research and monitoring are promoted.  These efforts will include surveys, original research and monitoring inside the reserves, and comparisons with the exploited areas outside.  The data will be freely distributed to managers and the general public.

19. This policy will be adopted by the authorities to ensure that action occurs.  But in each region, there will be many arrangements of reserves that conform to the policy and its principles.  Precise decisions will include the full democratic process.  Anyone interested can and should become involved at the detailed level, but no local or sectional interests will be allowed veto powers.

20. The matter is urgent.  Safeguarding our children's future requires action now.  The policy and its principles provide the necessary guidelines for practical action. Using these, existing information is sufficient for action in all regions.

NOTE  Marine reserves support all standard marine management, but they are not a panacea, nor an alternative. Detailed and general management must continue outside the reserves, and steadily improve. Reserves cannot operate successfully unless exploitive use outside is kept within reasonable bounds. In particular, marine reserves do not protect marine life against damage caused by things that float or flow into the reserves (e.g. water borne silt or pollutants) or atmospheric changes (e.g. global warming), but reserves are necessary to distinguish these effects from direct damage and to measure both.

Dr Bill Ballantine is a marine biologist at the Leigh Marine Laboratory, University of Auckland, New Zealand.  He has advocated the concept of no-take marine reserves since the 1960s and helped promote many of the existing reserves in New Zealand waters.  This document is an updated version of the paper first published in the April 2003 edition of MPA News (4:9, Scientific Principles for Marine Reserve Systems); republished in MPA News 7:7 February 2006.

 

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