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You want fish? Police your reserves

5 February 2014

Posted by: UAR news team

Category: Policy Issues

fish–reef.jpgSome of the world’s most vulnerable marine habitats are being failed by the conservation orders put in place to protect them.

A new study, published online today in Nature, shows that a majority of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) do not fulfil their conservation goals. An international team surveyed over 2000 species of reef fishes inside and outside MPAs in 40 countries. They found that in most cases, marine wildlife populations inside parks or reserves are no different to those found in fished areas.

Dr Trevor Willis from the University of Portsmouth, said that the results demonstrated that many MPAs are protected only in name and described them as ‘paper parks’, where in many cases it was business as usual. He said it is unsurprising that the study found little recovery in fish populations.

“Marine reserves or parks that allow any form of fishing, that are inadequately enforced and too small to encompass the natural range of the most vulnerable species are likely to fail as protection measures.”

Dr Willis said the study challenges to environmental planners and agencies to improve.

“Effective marine conservation measures must include a complete ban on fishing rather than restrictions and this must be effectively policed and enforced. They must have long term goals because reversing the effects of mankind can take years and they must be of significant size to make a difference.”

The study showed that effective MPAs had on average eight times more large fish, nine times more groupers, and 14 times more sharks than fished areas.

Professor Graham Edgar of the University of Tasmania, highlighted the fact that some MPAs were working extremely well, had massive numbers of large fishes and extremely high conservation value but they were in the minority.

By co-incidence the BBC Radio 4 programme Shared Planet discussed the issue of Ocean governance this week. The programme can be listened to here on the BBC website.