Background to the Proposal
The concept of a marine protected area (MPA) is exceptionally broad and may defined as follows:
"Any area of the coastal zone or open ocean conferred some level of protection for the purpose of managing the use of resources or protection of vulnerable or threatened habitats or species" (Agardy 1997).
Among both the general population and the scientific community, it is very difficult to find people who oppose the idea of MPAs in principle. Indeed, a study conducted by the Ocean Conservancy found that 95% of the comments made during recent hearings on MPAs in California were in support of their establishment and expansion (Hahn 2007).
However, the specific issue to be addressed in this proposal is that of no-take areas, or marine reserves, which historically have been much more controversial than MPAs in general. No-take areas are designated parts of the ocean where all exploitative or extractive uses are prohibited indefinitely (Guenétte, Pitcher, & Walters 2000). Fundamentally, such marine reserves possess attributes that set them apart from traditional marine management. Well-designed marine reserves are proactive, rather than reactive; they act as "insurance" against inaccuracies in science and policy, as well as against the natural variability inherent to ecosystems. In another sense, setting aside regions of the ocean is akin to diversely investing one's assets for the sake of growth and stability in the future. Since they are ecosystem-based, marine reserves do not require the large amounts of often difficult-to-acquire, species-specific data needed by more traditional management techniques (Ballantine 1991). And at least from a scientific and ecological perspective, no-take zones are undoubtedly effective at achieving their goals.
The greatest issue that currently prevents MPAs from making a larger global impact is one of scale. As it stands today, only 0.7% of world ocean area is protected in some way, with far less covered by strict no-take regulations (Pauly 2007). Just for comparison, consider that 11.5% of global land area is protected in some way by the nations of the world (UNEP 2007). Furthermore, the growth rate of the human ability to exploit the oceans far outstrips the overall growth rate of MPAs (Pauly 2007).
However, such statistics should not be taken as an indictment of current MPAs. Indeed, it cannot be emphasized enough that the protected areas of today should be used as the beginnings of a system for the future. Likewise, we do not intend for no-take zones to replace or otherwise end traditional management techniques, such as effort and technological restrictions. Indeed, such measures are critical for maximizing the effectiveness of marine reserves (Guenétte, Pitcher, & Walters 2000). Despite these reasonable steps, the most fundamental fact remains unchanged: What we have today is simply not enough to make a globally significant difference - rapid expansion, continued development, and improved strength of marine protected areas is an absolute necessity.
Of course, proper policy is about more than just science; there is a significant and often all-important social component to consider as well. It is precisely the stricter restrictions of marine reserves that have made their establishment so controversial. Often, the mere mention of closing off areas of the ocean is enough to put fishermen and other interested parties up in arms (Agardy, et. al. 2003). For any policy to succeed it must be capable of gaining a certain measure of public support; in other words, the public must be convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs on all relevant timescales. At the same time, any plan must also consider the mundane, but very real issues related to implementation and operation.
Hence, the challenge before us is two-fold. The first goal is to, as quickly as possible, expand existing MPAs into a broad, enforceable network of marine reserves that cover a significant proportion of the world ocean. But equally important is that a fundamental part of any plan must be an attempt to maximize its public acceptability. Thus, in our proposal, we will attempt to find this exceedingly fine balance point between ecology and society.