MPA evaluation

As ever, Project Seahorse marries research and management in a tight feedback loop.

We here describe just a few of our creative and valuable studies in the Philippines and Canada that can help inform development of MPAs.

Fish and habitat recovery

In the Philippines, we tracked fish and habitat recovery in nine MPAs that we catalysed (inside and out) AND in five reference sites, distant from the MPAs. This design was novel in recognising that recovery inside an MPA commonly causes change near its boundaries, potentially hiding the effects of the MPA. Our work revealed that most fishes, but certainly not all, were indeed faring better in the MPAs.

Surveying inside MPA, Danajon Bank. Photo by Jonathan Anticamara / Project Seahorse
Searching for invertebrates within MPAs. Photo by Kyle Gillespie / Project Seahorse

Integrated research

Among our other studies, three Filipino PhD students with Project Seahorse – two were initially biologists on the field projects – conducted integrated research on our MPAs: one looked at the anthropological underpinnings of MPAs in the region; one looked at parameters of resource management in MPAs; and one tracked 419 species monthly across six MPAs in a very comprehensive study of biological change.

In Handumon, we carried out scientific surveys of the MPA recovery and also asked community members what they thought about MPA recovery. Our biological data showed that fish had fared quite well in the MPA. In contrast, local people felt that fish had truly thrived in the MPA. We consider it entirely possible that villagers’ views were more accurate than biological analysis.

Community selection works

Having placed MPAs wherever the villagers wanted them, we went back in time and imagined that we had instead used available knowledge to formally plan the suite of MPAs. It turns out that placing MPAs according to community preferences (our ad hoc approach) had created good ecological coverage, more easily and more cheaply than would have happened with systematic planning.

MPA research into Canada

We extended our MPA research into Canada, asking two First Nations (Indigenous Peoples) where they might want MPAs in their waters. We also used biological data to make systematic plans for MPAs for the areas. Comparing the two plans showed they were rather similar but with some valuable differences. So integrating community-led and science-based approaches may be the best option.

We took our Canadian work farther, with a novel approach to commercial fisheries management. Our analyses showed that ending fishing in less than 2% of the least productive fishing grounds (across 13 fisheries) would automatically protect 20% of the ocean off British Columbia.