By Samantha Murray
We may be from more than 80 countries and we don’t all speak the same language, but after just two days, the 1200 participants at the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Marseille, France are bonding. We all believe marine protected areas (MPAs) play an important role in the future of our ocean. Throw in some shared awe over a bowl of bouillabaisse (so. much. fish!) and a few bottles of Provençal rosé, and we’ve got more than enough fodder to fill five days of conversation.
The best part of these conversations is their authenticity and substance. Like a secret handshake we all learned during our years spent advocating for, designing, monitoring or otherwise implementing MPAs, we’ve got a shorthand that—in spite of our differences—allows us to speak in a single language about protecting our global ocean. As a result, three things keep resonating in the presentations and conversations at IMPAC3:
1. Our MPA stories are remarkably alike. They usually start with the realization that the local marine wildlife and habitat are not what they once were.
- In Madagascar, people created the Velondriake MPA when local economically-important octopus populations declined.
- In the Mediterranean, artisanal fishermen were alarmed at the drastic changes in their local waters and supported the creation of the Marine Park in the Strait of Bonifacio.
- In California, we recognized the decline of local rockfish and the importance of rocky reefs and passed the Marine Life Protection Act, a law which called for the nation’s first statewide network of MPAs and resulted in protection of 16% of the state’s 1,100-mile coastline.
2. There is much to learn from one another. It takes education and time for people to understand that the best solution sometimes means protecting the local area and the habitat inside so that the big, fat female fish can thrive. Locals in Lyme Bay in southwest England knew that local participation, including from fishermen, was critical to ensuring the successful design and adoption of their marine reserve in 2008. In California, the state similarly created a process that put MPA design responsibility in the hands of the local people, including fishermen, divers, conservationists and tribes. It continues to invest in stakeholders today by engaging fishermen in ongoing monitoring efforts to ensure protected areas are doing their job over the long term.
3. MPAs really do work. The science is clear and the stories at IMPAC3 in Marseille confirm it.
- At the Côte Bleue Marine Park in France, the density, number and biomass of fish—including high level predators that are scarce outside, like grouper—have increased significantly inside the MPA since 1995.
- The Marine Nature Park of Iroise near the island of Sein is home to the largest colony of grey seals in France and is seeing the return of red lobsters.
- In California, species like spiny lobster and red urchin are increasing in the Channel Islands MPAs, and the Central Coast MPAs are hosting larger cabezon and lingcod after only five years.
Indeed, the stories here in Marseille are familiar and reassuring. They remind us that it’s never too late to start doing something positive for our ocean. And, like François Sarano, noted oceanographer, says, “Nature doesn’t need to be maintained; it only needs a little breathing room.”
Samantha Murray is the Pacific Program Director for Ocean Conservancy. she oversees OC’s efforts to implement the nation’s first statewide, science-based network of marine protected areas, which covers more than 16% of California waters.