The Ecosytem-based Approach : Its use in the selection and management of Marine Reserves

The following are some notes designed to highlight some of the key features of marine reserves and the ecosystem-approach to their management. This list is neither exhaustive nor designed to highlight a particular line of approach. It is simply a guideline.

The Ecosystem Approach

This approach must recognise the following features if it is to be employed as a system of management:

  1. The interdependence between predator and prey species.
  2. The need to take account of interactions between different parts of the ecosystem, and the fact that managing a single aspect of the ecosystem, either exclusively or with specific emphasis, will not deliver long-term sustainability.
  3. When using sustainability as a goal of management, it must be recognised that economic and social sustainability (relating to human activity) can only be achieved if the practices permitted by the management regime are environmentally sustainable.
  4. Management practices must not be didactic (insisting upon or imposing a certain regime). Rather, they must be adaptive and capable of learning from experience and the act of management/intervention.
  5. Management must establish a series of indicators by which to measure the success/failure of management practices. Ideally, these indicators should incorporate thresholds so that the need to support or alter management practices is signalled.
  6. Management must be founded on robust science and observe the precautionary approach. Such management must have as its objective the restoration, promotion and maintenance of biodiversity. And, such management must recognise all the various human uses of the ecosystem in question.
  7. The precautionary approach should be founded on the principle that no activity is allowed to occur until it can be shown that no damage will result from that activity. It should not be founded on the reverse i.e. any activity may occur until there is reason to believe that it may cause damage, although proof remains unavailable. The former version is a strong interpretation of the principle, the latter a weaker interpretation. The management regime should use the strong version. It is upon this strong version of the principle that environmental impact assessments should be founded.
  8. Management should recognise that it is not possible to manage the marine environment. Our knowledge and understanding of this environment and its processes is simply too limited. Rather, the purpose of management is to manage human activities and their effects on the ecosystem, not to manage the ecosystem itself.
  9. The management of human activities must always be based on protecting the resource in the long-term, and not on protecting the economic gain in the short-term.
  10. Fishing, like other extractive activities, should be licensed and conform to the ecosystem-approach to management.

Marine Reserves

Marine reserves should be built and managed in order to contain the following features:

  1. Reserves should seek to protect representative areas which reflect the diversity of marine habitats and the processes on which all species depend.
  2. All extractive use of any resource (living, fossil, mineral) should be forbidden in the reserves, along with any form of habitat destruction.
  3. The reserves will be most effective if linked together in an ecologically coherent network.
  4. A reserve should seek to protect the entire ecosystem within its boundary.
  5. Due to the limitations of human knowledge and understanding of the marine environment, reserves must be established without waiting for any comprehensive understanding of their features or processes. The single criterion for their selection should be their ability to contain a representative spectrum of the marine ecosystem/environment, and their selection should not be made on the basis of single attributes.
  6. The primary purpose and focus of reserves should be to help ecosystems to recover (given the present condition of the UK marine environment), and thereafter to preserve and improve those ecosystems.
  7. Reserves should be regarded as insurance against further collapse of the marine environment, and they should provide a basis for scientific learning and knowledge of undamaged ecosystems.
  8. Reserves, due to their establishment as an interconnected network, will be able to act as a means of replenishment of species throughout the entire marine environment. They will be able to make the entire environment more resilient to natural catastrophe, and they will provide a reservoir of harvested species where such species can grow to full maturity (thus increasing their fecundity).
  9. It is most important that marine reserves are not regarded as “crown jewels”. Rather, they must be representative samples of the entire marine ecosystem, and they must cover at least 30% (minimum) of the entire UK seas up to 200 nautical miles.
  10. Marine reserves must be seen as a means for increasing human use and activity of the sea, and not exist exclusively for nature conservation. They must be capable of serving to regenerate fisheries, and must serve the economic and social (human) purposes of sustainability as well as the conservation purposes. Only by this means will they earn and merit the respect of commercial users of the sea.

Thus Marine Reserves must represent the full spectrum of biodiversity, and not be confined to some sub-set defined by commercial need or conservation rarity. Habitats should be replicated throughout the entire network of reserves which, themselves, should be interconnected and mutually supporting. The total area of sea designated as marine reserves should meet the objective of sustaining species/habitats in perpetuity, and should incorporate 30% of the sea area as a basic minimum. Their designation must be made on the basis of best scientific knowledge, local and traditional knowledge, and should be the result of full consultation with all users of the marine environment in order to ensure that all users understand and support their underlying principles.

Author, Stephen Eades, May 2006 with acknowledgement to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, 25th Report, 2005


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