Marine Reserve Networks Key to Protecting Oceans

PALO ALTO, California, January 14, 2003 (ENS) - Integrated networks of marine reserves offer the best formula for protecting and preserving marine resources, according to a new report released today by the Pew Oceans Commission. Marine reserves are areas in which no extractive use of any living creature, fossil, or mineral resource, nor any habitat destruction, is allowed.

Marine ecosystems in U.S. waters are threatened by overfishing, loss of coastal habitat, pollution and tourism.


Queen angelfish like this one live in Caribbean waters. (Photo courtesy Reef Environmental Education Fund)
"Marine reserves help ocean ecosystems recover and marine species abound," according to Dr. Stephen Palumbi, author of the report and a marine sciences professor at Stanford University. "The best way to protect and preserve marine resources is to establish dense networks of marine reserves of varying sizes and spacing."

The report, "Marine Reserves: A Tool for Ecosystem Management and Conservation," finds that marine reserves also contribute to the recovery of larger marine ecosystems.

"Enforced no-take marine reserves generate powerful changes in local ecosystems that can dramatically alter the abundance and size of species that are overexploited outside," Palumbi writes.

This report is the final one in a series by the Pew Oceans Commission, a nonprofit organization that is conducting a comprehensive review of U.S. ocean policy. The commission plans to offer its recommendations for a new national ocean policy to Congress and the Bush administration in early 2003.

The Pew Oceans Commission reports have found the world's oceans are threatened by a daunting list of problems - overfishing, habitat alteration, bycatch, recreational threats, pollutants, agricultural runoff, aquaculture, introduced species, climate change and coastal development.

Today's report recommends that a network of reserves should be implemented immediately in all major marine habitats in U.S. coastal waters.

A comprehensive list of U.S. marine reserves still does not exist, according to the report. Palumbi's review of existing literature finds only 24 fully protected U.S. marine reserves. These include reserves within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii, California and Alaska.


There are more than 6,000 species of plants and animals in the waters of the Florida Keys. (Photo courtesy Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary)
Florida's Tortugas Ecological Reserve is the nation's largest at some 200 square miles (518 square kilometers).

Palumbi suggests that the recent designation of 10 state marine reserves in California's Channel Islands should stand a national model. The California Fish and Game Commission established the reserves by vote last October, and protections entered into effect on January 1, 2003.

California's ability and desire to create these reserves appears to be far ahead of the rest of the nation. Where the authority to create marine reserves rests remains unclear for the vast majority of U.S. ocean waters. This authority is lacking at both the national and state level, with the exception of California, which passed the Marine Life Protection Act to provide the governance framework for marine reserves.

The political challenge of creating marine reserves will emerge from competing economic interests, especially commercial fishermen, who worry how fishing restrictions in reserves can impact their livelihoods. Still, the presence of a marine reserve can improve commercial catches. The Pew study cites research showing that both commercial and recreational fisheries report greater catches of larger fish near fully protected marine reserves.

The current U.S. system of marine protection is confusing and inconsistent, the report finds. Protections commonly target very specific threats such as oil or gas development, or a single species of fish. The varying layers of protection can be misleading, says the report.


Humpback whales are very protective of their calves and prefer the shallow areas around the islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai in the National Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Sanctuary (Photo by Mike White courtesy NOAA)
"The large expanses of the 13 national marine sanctuaries seem to be the crown jewel of the U.S. marine reserve system," Palumbi writes. "However, these sanctuaries provide protection mostly against oil and gas development. Fully protected marine reserves only exist where they have been carefully negotiated with the local community."

Marine reserves are different, and more effective, than patchwork safeguards because they protect all the elements of a marine ecosystem, and their goal is to preserve ecosystem function, Palumbi explains.

The report recommends that the design and implementation of multiple reserves in a habitat should be done adaptively, using the lessons learned from earlier efforts and involving local citizens representing all uses of ocean resources. It is vital, the report finds, that all local stakeholders be involved in the process.

"A grid of same-size reserves should not be the goal," Palumbi wrote.

The third recommendation of the report calls for a comprehensive effort to manage multiple uses of ocean habitats for multiple goals. Other management efforts should not cease as marine reserves proliferate, the report recommends, and local efforts have to be integrated at state, national and international levels. Although marine reserves have been established among many of different coastlines around the world, less than one percent of the world's oceans are protected by marine reserves.

An important component in shifting policy on marine resources is the creation of new ways to value marine ecosystems beyond the worth of what can be extracted from them, the report explains. Policies need to take into account the value of the areas for fishing and tourism, but even more important is the need to value the services marine ecosystems provide for free.

Palumbi cites the work of conservation biologist Robert Costanza and others, who estimated that the value of the ecosystems provided by the global biosphere is about $30 trillion per year. This is higher than the value of the world's entire industrial output.

"Marine ecosystems provide many such services, including capture of sediments by wetlands, protection from coastal storm damage by reefs or mangroves, production of oxygen, and sequestration of carbon dioxide," Palumbi wrote, adding that the study found coastal marine ecosystems contribute some $12 trillion of the $30 trillion total. The open ocean's contribution is valued at some $8 trillion.


Leon Panetta chairs the Pew Oceans Commission (Photo courtesy Coastal America)
The United States has long appreciated the value and benefits of preserving and protecting the land, said Leon Panetta, chair of the Pew Oceans Commission, but is only just beginning to apply that same conservation ethic to the oceans.

The report finds that the area protected in state and federal parks is more than 100 times what is protected within marine reserves.

"The oceans are a public trust and need our protection," Panetta said. "Setting aside parts of the ocean as marine reserves, based on science and the public's involvement, is an essential part of a comprehensive approach to ocean management."

In addition to Panetta, former White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, the commission consists of 17 members with a broad range of interests.

The commission includes John Adams, the founder of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Mike Hayden, the former president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association; as well as New York Governor George Pataki, and Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space. Other commissioners come from the commercial fishing industry, from research and academia as well as from conservation groups.

"Our goal is to restore and maintain marine ecosystems, and preserve our fishing heritage," Panetta said. "Congress and the nation have the opportunity to build a better future for the oceans and those who depend on them for their livelihoods."

In addition to the report on marine reserves, the Pew Oceans Commission today released three reports on the state of the U.S. commercial fishing industry. These reports address the issues surrounding the industry's declining economic status, which is largely the result of excess competition, declining productivity, and poor management.

"America's fishing families are the cornerstones of our coastal communities," said Pietro Parravano, a Pew Oceans commissioner, salmon fisherman and president of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations. "If we lose our fishing communities, we lose our fishing heritage. These reports can help plan and manage for the fishing communities we want instead of ending up with the communities we get.

The economic benefits of improving fisheries management are analyzed in "Socioeconomic Perspectives on Marine Fisheries in the United States," prepared by Pew Oceans Commission staff. It finds that the pursuit of conservative policies and the rebuilding of depleted stocks are integral components to reviving the U.S. commercial fishing industry, as well as securing its long term, sustainable future.

"Increasing annual catches to long term sustainable levels could add at least $1.3 billion to the U.S. economy," the study finds. "Rebuilding U.S. fisheries has the potential to restore and create tens of thousands of family wage jobs and to substantially boost local and regional fishing economies."

The report finds that some 50 percent of federally mandated fisheries are overcapitalized and cites research showing the capacity of U.S. fleets was 2.4 times higher than necessary to catch sustainable yields. The economic impact of this excess capacity is multiplied by the industry's limited geographic diversity.


A catch of pollock from Alaskan waters (Photo courtesy Alaska Office, NMFS)
Fishing tends to concentrate on few species, with some 50 percent of the total annual domestic catch composed of just Alaskan pollock and menhaden.

"The fact that U.S. fishermen largely depend on a few key geographic areas and a relatively small number of species tends to increase economic vulnerability for the industry," according to the study. "Dynamic fish populations fluctuate, yet fishing infrastructure tends to follow the increases without an eye toward weathering population troughs."

The report details how an overriding challenge for the transition to sustainable fishing is the impact on the industry's workers and their communities. There is precedence for monetary compensation in fisheries policy, the authors write, and how to handle the economic hardship of restricted fishing while building fishery stocks and restoring marine ecosystems is integral to a sustainable future for the industry.

"A Dialogue on America's Fisheries," offers a slew of recommendations from fishermen and women on how to improve fisheries management as told to the foundation's commissioners in meetings held in California, New Hampshire, Hawaii, South Carolina, Maryland, Washington, Alaska, and Louisiana. The commissioners heard that the fishery management process is increasingly inflexible, with accountability lacking, and litigation handing fishery management decisions to federal judges.

The fishery management process lacks balanced and meaningful participation by smaller fishing operations and is in need of more and better science. The industry continues to face the challenges of changes within fishing communities, including gentrification along the coast.

The pressures of the global marketplace and the global migratory patterns of some marine species is another concern for the industry.


Atlantic white-sided dolphins in the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (Photo by Cynde Bierman, Ocean Alliance courtesy NOAA)
This report finds continued suspicion by fishermen of marine protected areas and other regulations that many believe are either unwarranted or poorly implemented.

"Managing Marine Fisheries in the United States," recommends reforms to existing fishery management, including ways to improve fishery science. In the foreword, the report's authors state "the current U.S. fishery management system is not working well."

A collection of 13 papers by economists, scientists and other fisheries experts, the report reviews the effectiveness of U.S. fishery management laws, institutions and policies used to protect the nation's living marine resources.

These papers review the existing legal framework for managing federal fisheries, examine traditional and emerging fishery management tools, pose new models for current institutional structures, examine the economics of fishery management and consider new ways to improve the science used for fishery management decisions.

The federal government is in the process of reviewing its oceans policies. In August 2000, Congress passed the Oceans Act of 2000, which established a 16 member Commission on Ocean Policy to undertake a study and make recommendations to the President and Congress about a national ocean policy for the United States. After two meetings in Washington, DC, the commission embarked on a series of regional meetings to gather information.

After hearing from 440 presenters in 10 cities over 11 months, the Commission completed its fact finding phase in October 2002. The Commission has now entered its deliberative phase, which will continue into early 2003.

The U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy will hold a public meeting to discuss policy options on January 24, 2003, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Amphitheater in Washington, D.C. For further information on the meeting, contact Terry Schaff at the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, by phone, 202-418-3442, or by e-mail:

For more on the Pew Oceans Commission please see:

For a copy of the report on marine reserves, see:

To read: "Socioeconomic Perspectives on Marine Fisheries in the United States," see:

To read "A Dialogue on America's Fisheries", see:

To read "Managing Marine Fisheries in the United States," see:

For more information on the Channel Islands network of marine reserves, see:

To learn more about the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy visit: