Overfishing, degradation and loss of key habitats due to local and global threats are undermining food security, livelihoods and long term sustainability of tropical marine ecosystems. If well designed, marine protected areas (MPAs) can reduce local threats, and contribute to sustaining fisheries and conserving biodiversity in the face of global threats such as climate change.
Existing biophysical design principles take account of biological and physical processes to recommend how to design MPA networks to achieve fisheries, biodiversity or climate change objectives. While there are many similarities among existing principles for achieving each of these objectives, there are some differences that provide conflicting advice.
This document was developed in response to numerous requests from field practitioners for concise, user friendly advice regarding how to design MPA networks
to achieve fisheries, biodiversity and climate change objectives simultaneously. Here we synthesize and reconcile existing approaches to provide an integrated set of 15 biophysical principles that field practitioners can use to design MPA networks to achieve all three objectives simultaneously, based primarily on a detailed technical report by Fernandes et al 20123. These principles are designed to be used in combination with important social, economic and political considerations in marine spatial planning.
There are often information gaps and socio-economic, cultural, political and other reasons that can prevent full application of these principles. When required to
compromise, managers should aim to achieve as many principles as possible in the order presented below.
The 15 biophysical principles for designing marine protected area networks to achieve fisheries, biodiversity, and climate change objectives in tropical ecosystems
elaborated in this Guide are as follows:
1. Prohibit destructive activities throughout the management area.
2. Represent 20-40% of each habitat within marine reserves (depending on fishing pressure and if there is additional effective protection in place outside
of reserves). Include habitats that are connected through movements of key species.
3. Replicate protection of habitats within marine reserves.
4. Ensure marine reserves include critical habitats (e.g. spawning, feeding and nursery areas).
5. Ensure marine reserves are in place for the long-term (20-40 years), preferably permanently.
6. Create a multiple use marine protected area that is as large as possible.
7. Apply minimum and variable sizes to MPAs (depending on key species and how far they move, and if other effective marine resource management methods are in place).
8. Separate marine reserves by 1 to 20 km (with a mode between 1 and 10 km).
9. Include an additional 15% of key habitats in shorter-term marine reserves.
10. Locate MPA boundaries both within habitats and at habitat edges.
11. Have MPAs in more square or circular shapes.
12. Minimize and avoid local threats.
13. Include resilient sites (refugia) in marine reserves.
14. Include special or unique sites in marine reserves (e.g. habitats that are isolated or important for rare and threatened species).
15. Locate more protection upstream.