Science for Successful Marine Management Areas
During the past 20 years, the establishment of marine management areas (MMAs) has become increasingly popular as a way to protect the ocean from human impacts. Consequently, the creation of MMAs has been, in a sense, a giant global experiment. Now that many MMAs have been in place for several years, it is essential to assess their progress toward management objectives and to determine the characteristics that lead to successful MMAs.
The MMAS Program was established to answer these questions with recognition that success must be measured in terms of both ecosystem health and human well-being. Using natural and social sciences, we study MMAs to understand how to make them effective – and we put the science into action.
Biodiversity, Ecosystem Services, and Human Well-being
The challenge of designing and implementing successful marine management areas is multifaceted. It requires understanding the biology, ecology, oceanography and biogeochemistry of how the ecosystem functions. Equally, it requires understanding people’s culture, sociology, politics and economics in relation to the ocean and coast. The MMAS Program’s scientific studies are organized in six themes that address biodiversity to human well-being:
Global Learning Network
The MMAS Program provides a worldwide perspective on key issues for marine management areas. This perspective is made possible by conducting research at sites around the world, including four Focus Areas and numerous other locations. We integrate our research findings within and among geographic areas and thematic areas to provide powerful, reliable information for conservation. By integrating the findings from many sites, the MMAS Program develops insights for management and policy that can be applied in any coral reef ecosystem.
An example of our global learning is "Lessons on Connectivity and Conservation in Coral Reef Habitats", which draws on insights from several of our ecological studies to provide lessons for managers related to habitat and population connectivity.
Science to Action
In all activities, we use a Science-to-Action (S2A) approach. Locally and globally, we work with managers, policy decision makers, and other stakeholders to identify the most critical information to improve management and the best ways to provide the information for maximum impact. We assemble teams of scientists to generate the needed information, and the scientists work in close partnership with stakeholders, often including sakeholders in the research team.
The scientific findings are shared informally through continuing communication, as well as through one-on-one discussions with key decision makers; meetings of stakeholders such as fishermen’s cooperatives and community workshops; and more public forums such as radio broadcasts. To facilitate these discussions, we produce S2A materials such as white papers, synthesis booklets, posters and guidebooks.
Most important, however, is the long-term engagement of the Science-to-Action Coordinators in each of the four Focus Areas because they ensure that scientific insights continue to feed into decision-making processes beyond the original timeline of the project.
As a result of these S2A efforts, we catalyzed the improvement of fishing regulations in Panama and the establishment of new marine management areas in Fiji, Brazil, and the southern Pacific Ocean. Similar S2A initiatives are under way in Belize and at a global level.
Selected MMAS Accomplishments
- Belize: Based on field research and workshops, we are developing a predictive decision-support tool to be used by the Belize government and other stakeholders in management processes.
- Brazil: Our scientists discovered extensive areas of coral reefs with tremendous biodiversity offshore at Abrolhos Bank, and demonstrated key ecological connections between these areas and coastal habitats. Scientific discoveries such this contributed to the Ministry of Environment accelerating the creation of Cassurubá Extractive Reserve (100,000 ha), protecting mangroves as nursery sites for many fish species.
- Fiji: When leaders in Nagigi village heard our findings about the genetic uniqueness of Fiji’s fish and the intra-connectedness of the archipelago, they decided to create a marine management area in their local waters.
- Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape: Based in part on MMAS research in Coiba National Park, a partnership of scientists, fishermen, conservation organizations, and park managers agreed to pursue new fisheries regulations to ensure sustainable use.
- Global: We released the first global compilation of the economic values of reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses, and the first global assessment of socioeconomic conditions of the tropical coasts. These publications have already been used by World Bank staff, Asian Development Bank staff, and a U.S. Congresswoman to demonstrate the importance of increasing conservation efforts for coral reefs.