Years ago, Costa Rica’s Tárcoles village was much like other fishing communities in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape. Poverty was increasing as resources declined, and prices for meager fish catches stayed flat as markets were saturated by industrial operators.
Then came CoopeTárcoles R.L., a joint project of the Tárcoles fishermen and CI partner CoopeSolidar R.L. The cooperative has a committed core membership with a small state-of-the-art processing facility that delivers high-quality, sustainably captured fish to local tourism operators.
In late 2007, CoopeTárcoles R.L. achieved a victory when the national government agreed to create a community managed marine reserve.
READ MORE: Cooperative Conservation: Tárcoles Takes a Prize.
This is one example of the kinds of marine protected areas (MPAs) that CI and its partners are helping to establish all over the world. From the vast Phoenix Islands Protected Area of the South Pacific to community reserves of Indonesia’s Raja Ampat region, conserving important marine biodiversity is helping protect fish resources while benefiting people by improving livelihoods and food security.
Preliminary results from a global study overseen and funded by CI and conducted by the University of Connecticut indicates that properly planned and managed MPAs provide a holistic approach to conservation that helps coastal communities and the biodiversity on which they depend.
Dr. Leah Bunce Karrer, senior director of CI’s Marine Managed Areas Science (MMAS) program, notes that protecting spawning grounds and other vital fish habitat increases fish populations. The larger fish populations spill over from no-fishing zones into surrounding areas, providing sustainable catches for local fishermen.
“We’re not trying to be preservationists that aim for complete human exclusion,” Karrer says. “We recognize that success depends on conservation that works for species and people.”
The goal is sustainable use of marine resources, with increased awareness of how to protect those resources for present and future benefit. That means balancing the needs of coastal communities with conservation of ecosystems such as coral reefs that are essential habitat for fish, a major food source and income generator. In addition, helping coastal communities develop alternate sources of conservation-based income such as ecotourism provides people with alternatives to depleting the resources at hand.
IN DEPTH: Marine Protected Areas ensure survival of marine ecosystems by protecting coral reefs. Learn how coral contributes to healthy oceans.
“This isn’t about a one-time benefit,” says Dr. Giselle SamonteTan, the MMAS director for social science research and outreach. “We need to sustain these resources and livelihoods for future generations.”
The study of MPAs in Tanzania, Vietnam, the Philippines and St. Lucia indicated they provide various ecological and socio-economic benefits including improved biodiversity, livelihoods, food security and environmental awareness, as well as reduced conflicts between communities.
In many cases, communities that traditionally depended on fishing alone found that MPAs offered diversified livelihoods including ecotourism, protected area management and even handicrafts made from plants in mangrove swamps.
“Our early findings demonstrate that protecting vital marine resources benefits fish as well as people,” said Tammy Campson, one of the University of Connecticut researchers. “These insights will be critical in talking with political leaders, community members and all resource managers to gain their support for conservation efforts.”
Effectively managing such protected areas requires both community involvement and government endorsement and support, especially with enforcement. While many MPAs are set up and run by local communities with the help of non-government organizations, they need the authority of federal and regional governments, along with cooperation from naval and coast guard ships to ward off interlopers. CI’s work includes the establishment of satellite-based Vessel Monitoring Systems to track illegal fishing activities in the Galapagos Marine Reserve of Ecuador.
LEARN MORE: CI has acheived its goal to create 20 marine protected areas by 2010. Find out about some of our successes.