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Corals and Marine Protected Areas

The accelerating degradation of reef ecosystems worldwide has led to calls for the creation of marine protected areas (MPAs) to reduce biodiversity loss. The term MPA encompasses a wide variety of approaches to place-based management, ranging from complex multi-use strategies, to areas with restrictions on specific types of fishing gear and research reserves with no public access.

MPAs that restrict fishing can reduce pressure from harvesting, which can facilitate the ability of species to deal with natural disturbances. Networks of coral reef protected areas can play a critical role in preventing and restoring degraded reefs by reducing human impacts and supporting relatively intact conditions in special areas. These areas can serve as nurseries and sources of recruits to repopulate and sustain damaged sites. They also can have high tourism and recreation value, providing jobs and revenue for local economies and increasing community support for reef conservation.

Currently, few of the world's coral reefs have any protected status. Furthermore, many marine protected areas are functioning only as "paper parks" with little to no enforcement. In the Caribbean, for example, it is estimated that only about six percent of the existing reef protected areas are operating effectively. Central to the success of an MPA network is sustained participation by key stakeholders, particularly local communities, in all phases of the design, implementation, and evaluation of the system.

While the U.S. has committed to building its network of MPAs, significant steps are also being made internationally. On November 5, 2005, the President of Palau announced the "Micronesia Challenge." He called on his peers to effectively conserve 30 percent of their near shore marine resources and 20 percent of their forest resources by the year 2020. The Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands joined Palau in issuing this challenge to the world. Another example is in Australia, where the government recently implemented a new marine zoning plan after consulting with hundreds of stakeholders. The new plan set aside 33 percent of the Great Barrier Reef in protected "no-take" zones.

Related Web Sites

Marine Protected Areas Center