Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Sustainability Case Studies Chapter 11 -- Marine Protected Areas in Canada

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This is the 11th post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

This chapter is titled, The Efficacy of Small Closures:  A Tale of Two Marine Protected Areas in Canada and is written by Ryan Stanley, Corey Morris, Paul Snelgrove, Ana Metaxas, and Pierre Pepin. The chapter provides an excellent definition and review of marine protected areas around the world and then goes on to review the situation with two Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is no surprise to readers of On the Brink that our ocean ecosystems are declining as marine activities increase. Overfishing, oil exploitation, coastal development, and pollution all contribute to the decline of the world's oceans. One of the management tools that has been developed to try to protect ocean ecosystems is the creation of MPAs. These places are akin to national parks or other terrestrial preserves in that very limited human activity is allowed within them. Thus, they become refuges for unique assemblages of organisms.

Unfortunately, just like terrestrial preserves, MPAs are impacted by external factors such as ocean acidification, pollution, and illegal activities. Thus even though they are protected, they are not immune to harm from human activity.

To date, just less than 3% of the world's oceans are within MPAs. The Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 sought to protect 10% of the world's oceans within MPA's but we are not close to that target. MPAs come in a variety of sizes. Small ones tend to focus on very local issues and ecosystems of concern and larger ones obviously tend to be more holistic in scope. Because the development of MPAs is relatively new, there is scant research on how effective they are at protecting marine ecosystems. A big focus of the chapter is on the need for the development of monitoring tools within the structure of MPA management. The chapter also notes the need for clear stakeholder engagement. In Canada, plans are set to increase MPAs in its coastal waters to 10% by the close of this year, up from 3%. Thus, public support for this initiative is crucial if it is to be successful.

Eastport MPA.
The first of the two MPA's discussed in the article is the Eastport MPA on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. This MPA was designated in order to protect the American lobster. It had been overharvested in the region and it was widely seen by many that something needed to be done in order to protect the species. The MPA provided a distinct refuge for the lobster that allowed the population to bounce back. The MPA was also set up to protect two endangered species, but according to the article, there is limited evidence of the species in the region due to the nature of the habitat.

The second of the MPA's is the Gilbert Bay Golden Cod MPA along the southeast coast of Labrador. Here, the MPA was set up to protect the spawning grounds of a unique species of cod that adapted to the unusual conditions of Gilbert Bay. The MPA is generally working in many respects. However, the largest cod, which are seen as the ones most likely to have successful reproduction, migrate out of the MPA where they can be harvested by gill nets. Thus, the distribution of the MPA does not match the actual goal of the MPS in protecting the reproductive cycle of the Gilbert Bay Cod.

Gilbert Bay MPA.
The article provides some broad lessons learned in studying these MPAs. First, the small size of MPAs can meet some objectives but not others. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to assess the impacts of small MPA's due to the fact that marine organisms have ranges that exceed the sizes of MPAs. In addition, the authors suggest that there is a need to employ adaptive management techniques. What this means is that policy needs to be flexible in order to achieve objectives. For example, the boundaries of an MPA may need to change as we learn more about the MPA and the species it is trying to protect. There are also very specific challenges to MPA's, particularly the need for local support, engagement, and monitoring.

Overall the chapter provides an excellent summary of MPA's and provides a great review of how two MPA's in Canada are working to protect marine organisms.

Click here to for more information about the book.

Here are some discussion questions that can be used when using this chapter in a lesson on marine protected areas.

1. Right now, roughly 3% of the world's oceans are protected by MPA's. What MPA's can be found in coastal waters of your country or region?

2. How does the size of an MPA impact its ability to protect ecosystems?

3. Why should MPA's be designed to include long-term monitoring plans?

4. In terms of MPA's, what is adaptive management?

5. Why was stakeholder engagement important in the development of the Eastport and Gilbert Bay MPAs?

6. What is it about the lifecycle of the American lobster that made the protection of the Eastport area so important?

7. The Gilbert Bay MPA is used to protect the Gilbert Bay cod. What makes this fish deserving of protection?

8. If you were to set up an MPA, what steps do you think you would take to make sure there was public support for it?


Previous posts in this series:

Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice:  The Case of Flint Michigan
Chapter 6. Sustainable Renewable Energy:  The Case of Burlington, Vermont
Chapter 7. Greenhouse Gas Management: A Case Study of a Typical American City
Chapter 9. Waste Management Outlook for the Middle East

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