Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution
Advancing the fundamental understanding of the key processes underpinning reef resilience.
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia
Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Conservation scientists say there needs to be a new approach to protecting offshore marine reserves.
Illegal fishing in marine reserves will be a major focus at the IUCN World Parks Congress, which has opened in Sydney.
Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University, who are attending the conference, have found a way to predict illegal fishing activities to help authorities better protect marine reserves.
Marine reserves are the most common strategy used to protect and maintain marine ecosystems around the world.
The International Convention of Biological Diversity aims to have 10 per cent of the world’s marine areas protected by 2020.
Many countries are contributing to this target by protecting remote, offshore areas. For example, the United States recently created the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve, covering almost 1.27 million square kilometres in the central Pacific Ocean.
But scientists are concerned that while a great deal of effort is being made to create reserves, many countries are simply not able to enforce the laws that are supposed to protect them.
The majority of fishers obey the law, but some don’t.
“The success of protected areas depends on whether people comply with the regulations,” says Professor Joshua Cinner from Coral CoE.
“Enforcement and compliance issues for large off-shore marine parks are fundamentally different to near-shore protected areas,” Professor Cinner says.
He explains that the biggest problems facing countries trying to enforce offshore marine reserves is their distance from land and the difficulty and cost of patrolling large tracts of ocean.
“The distances to these areas can be very large. They are a long way from prying eyes and quite often the regulations are such that you have to actually catch people illegally fishing to prosecute them,” Professor Cinner says.
“It can be extremely difficult for authorities to catch illegal fishers in the act.”
In a bid to combat the problem, researchers at Coral CoE examined five years’ worth of data collected from the World Heritage-listed Cocos Island National Park, a unique marine protected area in the Pacific Ocean about 500 kilometres off the west coast of Costa Rica.
From the records they were able identify illegal fishing patterns and predict both when and where illegal fishing was likely to happen.
They found that illegal fishing was concentrated in a few ‘hotspots’ and really ramped up during specific lunar phases of some months.
Professor Bob Pressey, also from Coral CoE, says authorities could use this knowledge to match patrols to the time and place when illegal fishers are most likely to be in action.
“Using a targeted approach helps authorities catch and deter illegal fishers, while saving money on patrols,” Professor Pressey says.
“Rather than just hoping you can catch illegal fishers effectively by random patrols, we have used previous patrols to look for patterns which tell us when and where people fish illegally,” adds Professor Cinner.
Study lead author, Coral CoE PhD candidate, Adrian Arias says the model of predicting illegal patterns from old records can be used to increase the success of patrols in other locations.
“Our research in Costa Rica showed how a systematic and periodic analysis of patrol records can help to increase the probability of catching illegal fishers. This could be done pretty much anywhere that patrol data are available,” he says.
Professor Cinner adds that by better targeting limited resources, authorities have a greater chance of successfully protecting marine parks.
“Targeting resources is particularly important for developing countries such as Costa Rica, which have taken on the conservation challenge but don’t have the same funding to ensure compliance as a country such as Australia.”
Optimizing enforcement and compliance in offshore marine protected areas: a case study from Cocos Islands, Costa Rica by Adrian Arias, Robert L. Pressey, Rhondda E. Jones, Jorge G Alvarez-Romero and Joshua E. Cinner is published in the journal, Oryx. http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0030605314000337
Professor Josh Cinner, Coral CoE – +61 7 4781 6751, Joshua.firstname.lastname@example.org
Professor Bob Pressey, Coral CoE – +61 7 4781619, email@example.com
Eleanor Gregory, Communications Manager, Coral CoE – +61 (0) 428 785 895,
Australia can be a world leader in designing marine reserves that keep pace with changes in the climate and human activity and still successfully protect their sea life, a leading marine scientist said today.
Professor Bob Pressey of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University told the Australian Academy of Science’s Earth System Outlook Conference in Canberra that developing marine protected areas that can absorb the impact of warming oceans, storms and flood events from the land is ‘doable’.
His comments come as government leaders from around the world meet in Doha for the United Nation’s Climate Conference (Nov 26-Dec7) to try to impart new momentum to stalled efforts to fight climate change.
“The challenge we face is that a marine reserve or park usually covers a fixed geographical area – but bodies of hot ocean water, storms and flood runoff move unpredictably in space and time,” Prof. Pressey explains.
“This means either that the reserve boundaries may have to move as things change – or else they need to located and designed carefully. If they’re fixed reserves, they need to be placed away from frequent disturbances, or configured so that individual disturbance events don’t affect them entirely. That way, we can include areas where sea life may take refuge to be safe from the impact.”
Prof. Pressey says that 25 years of ocean temperature data had given scientists a much better understanding of where on the Great Barrier Reef the impacts of coral bleaching were likely to be most severe – and where corals appeared to be consistently safe from high temperatures.
“While we can’t easily predict when an episode of hot ocean water will move in, we can definitely see some areas which appear to avoid the harshest effects over time – whether because they are shielded in some way or cooled by cold upwelling currents.
“This gives us the ability to design marine protected areas for the GBR and elsewhere that are resilient over time, no matter what changes take place.
“On top of the sea temperatures, we can also potentially factor in historical data from cyclone tracks and flood plumes, or bodies of floodwater with high loads of sediment. By superimposing all these we can identify and be sure to protect those special areas of the reef which are naturally resilient and which can recharge other areas that may be damaged.”
In a separate paper to the conference Professor Geoff Jones of CoECRS and JCU said there was now plenty of evidence that marine reserves work – not only by replenishing fish populations in no-take zones, but also by recharging fish populations in areas open to fishing.
“Our a new application of genetic parentage analysis shows protected populations of coral trout are helping to sustain juvenile recruitment in both reserves and in fished populations,” he says.
“At the Keppel islands, local reserves (about 30% of the reef area) now account for about 60% of juvenile recruitment of coral trout in the region, both in reserves and fished areas. Hence, reserves do have the potential to conserve coral trout and sustain fisheries in the long-term.”
However Prof. Jones cautioned that coral trout populations could still suffer if coral cover on the reef declined – and added that size and catch limits would still be needed in areas outside the reserve to ensure there were enough adult fish to sustain the fishery.
“While no take zones are extremely valuable, we need both them and more traditional fisheries management practices to ensure a healthy fish population on the Great Barrier Reef into the future,” he concluded.
Professor Bob Pressey, CoECRS and JCU +61 7 4781 6194 or +61 0418 387 681
Professor Geoff Jones, CoECRS and JCU, + 61 7 4781 4559 or +61 0435 065 296
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 7 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 7 4781 4822 or +61 0418 892 449
Mona Akbari, Media Officer AAS, ph +61 2 6201 9452
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia
Phone: 61 7 4781 4000