Article: Ecological criteria for evaluating candidate sites for marine reserves

Journal Article
Container Title: 
Ecological Applications
Roberts, C. M.; Andelman, S.; Branch, G.; Bustamante, R. H.; Castilla, J. C.; Dugan, J.; Halpern, B. S.; Lafferty, K. D.; Leslie, H.; Lubchenco, J.; McArdle, D.; Possingham, H. P.; Ruckelshaus, M.; Warner, R. R.
Page Number(s): 
S199-S214; S215-S228
Publication Date: 

Several schemes have been developed to help select the locations of marine reserves. All of them combine social, economic, and biological criteria, and few offer any guidance as to how to prioritize among the criteria identified. This can imply that the relative weights given to different criteria are unimportant. Where two sites are of equal value ecologically; then socioeconomic criteria should dominate the choice of which should be protected. However, in many cases, socioeconomic criteria are given equal or greater weight than ecological considerations in the choice of sites. This can lead to selection of reserves with little biological value that fail to meet many of the desired objectives. To avoid such a possibility, we develop a series of criteria that allow preliminary evaluation of candidate sites according to their relative biological values in advance of the application of socioeconomic criteria. We include criteria that,. while not strictly biological, have a strong influence on the species present or ecological processes. Out scheme enables sites to be assessed according to their biodiversity, the processes which underpin that diversity, and the processes that support fisheries and provide a spectrum of other services important to people. Criteria that capture biodiversity values include biogeographic representation, habitat representation and heterogeneity, and presence of species or populations of special interest (e.g., threatened species). Criteria that capture sustainability of biodiversity and fishery values include the size of reserves necessary to protect viable habitats, presence of exploitable species, vulnerable life stages, connectivity among reserves, links among ecosystems, and provision of ecosystem services to people. Criteria measuring human and natural threats enable candidate sites to be eliminated from consideration if risks are too great, but also help prioritize among sites where threats can be mitigated by protection. While our criteria can be applied to the design of reserve networks, they also enable choice of single reserves to be made in the context of the attributes of existing protected areas. The overall goal of our scheme is to promote the development of reserve networks that will maintain biodiversity and ecosystem functioning at large scales. The values of eco-system goods and services for people ultimately depend on meeting this objective. Marine reserves are being established worldwide in response to,a growing recognition of the conservation crisis that is building in the oceans. However, designation of reserves has been largely opportunistic, or protective measures have been implemented (often overlapping and sometimes in conflict) by different entities seeking to achieve different ends. This has created confusion among both users and enforcers, and the proliferation of different measures provides a false sense of protection where little is offered. This paper sets out a procedure grounded in current understanding of ecological processes, that allows the evaluation and selection of reserve sites in order to develop functional, interconnected networks of fully protected reserves that will fulfill multiple objectives. By fully protected we mean permanently closed to fishing and other resource extraction. We provide a framework that unifies the central aims of conservation and fishery management, while also meeting other human needs such. as the provision of ecosystem services (e.g., maintenance of coastal water quality, shoreline protection, and recreational opportunities). In our scheme, candidate sites for reserves are evaluated against 12 criteria focused toward sustaining the biological integrity and productivity of marine systems at both local and regional scales. While a limited number of sites will be indispensable in a network, many will be of similar value as reserves, allowing the design of numerous alternative, biologically adequate networks. Devising multiple network designs will help ensure that ecological functionality is preserved throughout the socioeconomic evaluation process. Too often, socioeconomic criteria have dominated the process of reserve selection, potentially undermining their efficacy. We argue that application of biological criteria must precede and inform socioeconomic evaluation, since maintenance of ecosystem functioning is essential for meeting all of the goals for reserves. It is critical that stakeholders are fully involved throughout this process. Application of the proposed criteria will lead to networks whose multifunctionality will help. unite the objectives of different management entities, so accelerating progress toward improved stewardship of the oceans.

Adjacent systems are interdependent and impacts in one systems may impact the adjacent one; The identity and quantity of human threats and natural catastrophes in an area may affect the ability of the system to tolerate more impact and could affect the effectiveness of management strategies; Some habitats may be more vulnerable to specific stressors than others; In general, as the number of habitats in an area increases, biodiversity also increases and connectivity between habitats is strengthened; Ecosystems provide services on which humans rely. The provision of ecosystem services relies on intact ecosystems with diverse habitats and species compositions.