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US Science Body Endorses Expanded Marine Reserves

Eminent US Science Body Recommends Expanded Marine Reserves

The USA National Academy of Sciences has recommended in a major review that the United States expand its currently small system of protected marine reserves. According to a new National Research Council report "Marine Protected Areas: Tools for Sustaining Ocean Ecosystem" current management that relies on fishing limits is insufficient to protect ocean ecosystems from the growing stresses of human activity. Protected marine reserves currently cover less than 1 percent of U.S. waters, as opposed to terrestrial reserves, which cover about 10 percent of public land and are used extensively for conservation purposes.

The report endorses increased use of marine reserves, in concert with conventional management approaches, as tools for managing ocean resources. Conventional approaches to marine management, especially for fisheries, usually focus on individual species, the report says. Regulators typically restrict the length of the fishing season, type of gear fishermen can use, and the amount and size of fish taken in an effort to maintain the population necessary to preserve the reproductive potential of a particular species in a given area.

However, these strategies overlook other impacts of fishing efforts, including habitat damage caused by fishing gear (such as bottom trawling equipment used to harvest shellfish) and bycatch problems. In addition, it is difficult and costly to accurately assess the abundance and health of individual fish stocks on which to base regulations. Meanwhile, a growing body of scientific literature documents the potential effectiveness of marine reserves for replenishing overexploited fish stocks, conserving biodiversity, and restoring habitats, the committee found.

"Because they are defined by geographical boundaries, marine protected areas offer an approach to conservation that takes the entire ecosystem of particular area into consideration, rather than targeting specific species for protection," said Edward Houde, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and professor at the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Sciences.

"Declining or poorly managed fish populations and damage to marine habitats are discouraging signs that conventional ocean-management practices are insufficient, while recent research demonstrates that properly designed reserves can be effective tools for protecting and restoring ocean ecosystems."

Barry Weeber Senior Researcher Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society PO Box 631 Wellington New Zealand Phone 64-4-385-7374 Fax 64-4-385-7373 www.forest-bird.org.nz


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