Protected areas

Project Seahorse knows that marine protected areas (MPAs) are central to securing healthy oceans and vibrant populations of seahorses.

MPAs have benefits

Restricting human activity in tracts of the ocean provides numerous benefits. First, constraints on fishing reduce the pressure on species and spaces, protecting both wild populations and their habitats. There is very good evidence that MPAs have more individuals of more species, and commonly larger individuals, than surrounding areas. Second, protecting populations inside an MPA contributes to more marine life outside the MPA: as density builds up, adults spill out of the MPA; as animals breed in the MPA, larvae are exported. Third, MPAs provide an insurance policy against the intense pressure we are exerting on most of the ocean, safeguarding vital reservoirs of marine biodiversity and food security. Globally, there is increasing commitment to protecting 30% of each nation’s oceanic waters by 2030, having already made great progress towards protecting 10% by 2010. The challenge is to ensure that declarations of regulated areas actually lead to meaningful protection for the populations, habitats and ecosystems.

MPAs are practical

MPAs offer particular promise because they can be established at all geopolitical scales, from small village enterprises through to multinational accords. Wonderfully, marine protected areas are easy for fishing communities and other stakeholders to appreciate and can be relatively straightforward to implement. A huge number of community-driven MPAs are offering real hope of improvement at a small scale, with arrays of MPAs emerging that may be acting as ecological and governance networks.

At their most basic, MPAs simply require people to agree to stop fishing (marine reserves) or even just to ensure sustainable fishing practices that ensure healthy populations. At their most complicated, MPAs can involve several nations, demand a lot of systematic planning, and require substantial investments of technology for monitoring and enforcement.

For the most part, it is often best to plunge ahead with MPAs wherever communities or stakeholders are willing to accept and promote restrictions, in an ad hoc approach, rather than striving for a notionally perfect plan (in technical terms at least) through systematic analysis; goodwill is the essential ingredient for MPA success and parameters of MPAs can later be adjusted as we learn more by studying them.

Read about our success in establishing MPAs.