Tropical Marine Protected Areas

Introduction to Tropical Marine Protected Areas

According to the World Conservation Union a Marine Protected Area is defined as any area of intertidal or subtidal terrain together with their overlying waters and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment (Kelleher, 1995 & IUCN, 1988). According to Agardy ‘the ultimate goal of any marine protected area is marine conservation – that is, the protection of critical ecological processes that maintain the ecosystem and allow for the production of goods and services beneficial to humankind, while allowing for utilisation of ocean space and resources that is 1 International Legal Framework for MPAs, focused on Belgian Situation M. Rabaut Introduction sustainable in an ecological sense’ (Agardy, 1997). There are many formal definitions of marine protected areas, but the most broadly used definition is the IUCN definition: 

"A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values"

Objectives of Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) 

There are many kinds of marine protected areas that meet this broad definition, and which can have a wide range of conservation objectives. Such objectives can include: 

Ecological objectives 

Human objectives

Some people confuse marine reserves, where extraction of any resources is prohibited (no-take), as the only type of MPA. MPAs may include marine reserves, as well as other zones in which partial protection is afforded (seasonal closures, catch limits, etc.). Many MPAs are multiple-use areas, where a variety of uses are allowed. For example, there are many different kinds of MPAs in U.S. waters including national parks, wildlife refuges, monuments and marine sanctuaries, fisheries closures, critical habitat, habitat areas of particular concern, state parks, conservation areas, estuarine reserves and preserves, and numerous others. While a few sites exist as no-take marine reserves, the vast majority of MPAs, both in terms of numbers and area, are open for fishing, diving, boating, and other recreational and commercial uses.

Individual Site Selection Criteria 

MPA's and reserves are selected using natural, cultural, logistical, and/or socioeconomic criteria that may vary with different nations and programs. Protect Planet Ocean outlines some of the criteria for establishing a MPA as:

Ecotourism and Marine Protected Areas

Ecotourism is the “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (The International Ecotourism Society, 2014). The role of ecotourism within a marine protected area is to provide a source of income for the local communities that cause very little impact on to the marine ecosystem and marine species (Blue, N. d.). For the local communities, it provides jobs such as boat tours or excursions, snorkeling, scuba diving, and many more throughout the MPA. With ecotourism, it does not only cause behavioral change to the tourists, but also to the locals through economic increase (Blue, N. d.) and environmental awareness of their homeland.  In order for ecotourism and MPAs to benefit from one another, managers, local communities, and government officials need to work together and develop a management plan that will produce the maximum profit for the economy and the biodiversity of marine species. For further information, please click here to view our classmates website on marine ecotourism.

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