To succeed, large ocean sanctuaries need to benefit both sea life and people
Posted by admin on 22nd November 2017
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There is growing concern that the world’s oceans are in crisis because of climate change, overfishing, pollution and other stresses. One response is creating marine protected areas, or ocean parks, to conserve sea life and key habitats that support it, such as coral reefs.

In 2000, marine protected areas covered just 0.7 percent of the world’s oceans. Today 6.4 percent of the oceans are protected – about 9 million square miles. In 2010, 196 countries set a goal of protecting 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020.

Ocean parks that are very large and often remote account for most recent progress toward this goal, but they also are controversial. Some ecologists view them as the most effective way to protect ecosystems, deep-sea and open ocean habitats and large, highly migratory species. Critics say they may divert attention from conservation priorities closer to more densely populated areas, and are hard to monitor and enforce. And social scientists have questioned whether protecting such large zones infringes on indigenous people’s rights.

Our research seeks to inform conservation policies that are effective, equitable and socially just. In our new study of established or proposed large marine protected areas in Bermuda, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Palau, Kiribati and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, we show that efforts to protect even remote sites can generate important outcomes for local residents that they may view as positive or negative. They can increase national pride and political leverage for indigenous populations, for example. They can also complicate international conservation negotiations or cause broad shifts in national economies.

Here we discuss the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, one of the world’s largest, which was created in 2015. This sanctuary illustrates how large-scale ocean conservation has the potential to produce important social benefits.

Reefs in Palau.
Rebecca Gruby, CC BY-ND

Palau’s strategy

Palau is a small nation spread across several hundred islands in the western Pacific. As with many Pacific Island nations, Palau’s offshore tuna fishery is dominated by foreign vessels. Most of the revenues and fish that it produces are exported overseas. Only a small portion of the lowest-graded tuna makes it to Palau’s domestic market. At the same time, demand for seafood from Palau’s growing tourist industry is stressing other fish species in nearshore reefs.

In 2016, 136,572 tourists visited Palau – almost eight times the resident population. Palau is struggling to balance increasing tourist demand for seafood with the needs of local residents, who depend on reef fish for about 90 percent of their fish intake.

As part of a sweeping conservation and development vision, the sanctuary designates 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone (defined in international law as waters extending from 12 up to 200 miles off its coastlines) as a no-take reserve, and the rest as a domestic fishing zone. Virtually all of the fish caught in this zone must be sold in Palau. Fishing in the no-take reserve will decline incrementally and end by 2020. Palau’s territorial, or coastal, waters lie outside the sanctuary boundaries, but are protected by other policies like the Protected Areas Network.

The Palau National Marine Sanctuary covers 193,000 square miles and includes 80 percent of the nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone – an area extending from 12 up to 200 nautical miles from its coasts, in which it has exclusive rights for fishing and other economic activities.
Luke Fairbanks; data from from marineregions.org, protectedplanet.net, ESRI., CC BY-ND

This design seeks to protect marine species by eliminating foreign commercial fishing in most of Palau’s waters, while developing a domestic fishing industry that supplies local markets with large open-ocean species like tuna. By shifting more consumption to these fish, it aims to reduce pressure on reef fisheries near shore. And by spotlighting these actions as part of a shift toward high-end tourism, it seeks to promote sustainable economic development.

As Palau’s President Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. summarized, “The true purpose of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is to protect our resources for our people.”

Who benefits?

Translating these goals into action has triggered social changes within Palau. Sanctuary managers and nongovernment organizations are raising funds to provide more local fishermen with the midrange fishing vessels and capacity they need to access fish in the offshore domestic fishing zone. Many local fishermen are eager for this new livelihood source.

Palau’s government has drafted legislation and developed marketing campaigns that feature Palau’s conservation commitments. It is also increasing visitor fees and asking tourists to sign a Palau Pledge upon arrival, in which they promise to act in an environmentally and culturally responsible way during their stay.

While critics argue this strategy will do more for “rich tourists” than for conservation, we believe such assessments are premature. The goal is to limit the number of toilets flushing, divers on reefs and reef fish being eaten, while increasing revenue through higher returns from fewer visitors.

Not everyone in the tourism industry supports these changes. But models suggest that they can enable Palau to meet future seafood demand while protecting its marine resources.

Importantly, we have seen no evidence that these changes will restrict local residents’ access to the spaces and resources they currently use. The domestic fishing zone is designed to give Palauans more access to fish in their waters. And Palau’s leaders have historically protected local access to the 445 Rock Islands – the primary destination for visitors – by designating only a small number for tourist use.