New research tests effectiveness of California’s marine protected area design
Release Date: 05-22-2008

Portland, Ore. – New research finds that fishermen’s expertise contributes to better design of marine reserves. Researchers compared the effectiveness of marine reserve designs in meeting the objectives of California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative. Those objectives include protecting marine habitats and minimizing impacts on coastal communities. The study, performed by the Centre for Applied Environmental Decision Analysis at the University of Queensland and Ecotrust, a Portland, Ore. based conservation organization, was published in the April 2008 issue of the new journal Conservation Letters.

In addition to partnering on this research, Ecotrust has been contracted by the state of California in support of the MLPA Initiative. Working in the central coast region in 2005, Ecotrust’s field staff conducted over 100 in-person interviews with commercial fishermen to collect data on the value they attach to specific marine areas. “This study shows we can protect habitat while engaging fishermen in finding solutions that minimize impacts on the coastal communities,” says Dr. Astrid Scholz, Ecotrust vice president, co-author of the report, and member of the Initiative’s science advisory team.

The California state legislature created the public-private Initiative to designate, implement and manage a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which include fully protected marine reserves, along the California coast by 2011. To date, 29 MPAs have been implemented along the state’s central coast, the first of the Initiative’s five designated coastal areas.

Researchers used a conservation planning tool called Marxan, developed by Dr. Ian Ball and Professor Hugh Possingham, to design marine reserves that met the Initiative’s habitat protection targets, including ecosystems such as rocky reefs and kelp forest, while minimizing socioeconomic impacts. These scenarios were then used to evaluate each of the four designs submitted for the central coast. The research found that the networks designed by fishermen were most efficient at meeting the Initiative’s habitat objectives with the lowest impact on fisheries. The findings highlight the tangible benefits both of including fishermen’s local knowledge in the marine protection process and of utilizing an optimization tool like Marxan in support of the actual design.

The paper, titled “Effectiveness of marine reserve networks in representing biodiversity and minimizing impact to fishermen: a comparison of two approaches used in California,” was published in the first edition of Conservation Letters — a journal of the Society for Conservation Biology. The scientific journal publishes research with significant implications for the conservation of biological diversity.

About Ecotrust
Ecotrust’s mission is to inspire fresh thinking that creates social equity, economic opportunity and environmental well-being. For 17 years, Ecotrust has created, capitalized and catalyzed innovative ways to restore environmental conditions while fostering economic opportunities in the temperate rain forest–Pacific salmon region that stretches from Alaska to California.