When Belize's Laughing Bird Caye National Park was established in 1996, local fishers were concerned. Located in the middle of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System (the world's second-largest coral reef), the park was created largely due to the urging of tour operators and guides; fishing communities on the mainland worried that with the implementation of no-take zones around the caye, their fishing grounds would shrink and incomes would plummet.
Fourteen years later, these fishermen have changed their tune. Not only is the national park a popular tourist destination, but species flourishing in the park's protected coral reefs are spilling over into fishing areas, boosting fish yields and average household incomes across communities.
This is just one example from a series of new reports released this week by the Science-to-Action partnership – a global network of 75 organizations, headed by Conservation International (CI). Bringing together research spanning more than 20 countries and half a decade of work, these reports do more than advocate for marine conservation; they reveal just how closely tied humans are to the ocean – and prove that global conservation efforts are working.
The most illuminating study of these new reports is a survey conducted to examine the human well-being effects of MMAs in Belize, Fiji, Ecuador and Panama. Results indicate that community members whose livelihood is directly tied to the MMA have higher income, more diversified livelihoods and greater appreciation for the biodiversity and socioeconomic benefits of the MMA.
IN DEPTH: Learn more about Science-to-Action products and download these reports.
Conducting a Global Ocean Study
Look at any map of marine conservation areas, and it will probably appear as a patchwork of reserves, parks and protected areas big and small, all offering various degrees of protection from destructive human activities.
Due to the difficult nature of designating appropriate access rights in marine territories, creating an effective ocean governance system is a challenge involving a variety of players, including national governments, civil society organizations and local communities.
Over the last five years, members of the Science-to-Action partnership conducted more than 50 scientific studies in 23 countries in order to help determine what methods are working in the world's marine managed areas (MMAs) – and how they can be improved. An MMA is defined as a multi-use ocean zoning scheme that usually includes various degrees of protection, including no-take zones, buffer zones that limit certain activities, and areas dedicated to specific uses, such as fishing or dive tourism.
IN DEPTH: Learn more about Marine Management Area Science.
Combining natural and social scientific surveys, the research examined factors such as biophysical conditions, local economics, sociocultural data, governance and capacity-building. The researchers then compiled and analyzed the results to inform recommendations for improved marine management.
From Subsistence to Cultural Traditions, Ocean Takes Center Stage
So exactly how important is the ocean for humans? With half of the world's population living within 160 kilometers (100 miles) of the coast, the shoreline protection provided by coastal ecosystems is essential to avoid catastrophic impacts from natural disasters. Fish provides the main protein source for about 1 in 4 people worldwide; island and coastal communities with few alternative livelihood options rely especially heavily on fish for sustenance. Ocean-related tourism also provides important income. Science-to-Action researchers surveying 17 coastal communities in Central America found that 60-70 percent of residents depend on tourism for their livelihood.
In addition to many other direct benefits that the ocean provides for human survival, it is also responsible for a wealth of cultural impacts. In many coastal communities, stories of the ocean are interwoven into religion, songs and local festivals. Many of these marine-themed traditions have been practiced for centuries, and are inextricably linked to cultural identity.
Marine Managed Areas Boost Local Incomes
The most illuminating study of these new reports is a survey conducted to examine the human well-being effects of MMAs in Belize, Fiji, Ecuador and Panama. Results indicate that community members whose livelihood is directly tied to the MMA have higher income, more diversified livelihoods and greater appreciation for the biodiversity and socioeconomic benefits of the MMA. These findings represent a milestone for marine conservation efforts worldwide – further proof that sustainable ocean management is as crucial for human survival as it is for the thousands of other species reliant on the natural system covering 70 percent of our planet's surface.
Building on these results, the Science-to-Action researchers have proposed a series of recommendations for stakeholders, including expanding local community engagement, improving law enforcement and continued ecosystem monitoring. Ultimately, though, more research is needed to inform how we can best protect and manage our ocean and its many benefits for years to come.
||Living With the Sea (PDF - 24.1MB) |
Les Kaufman and John Tschirky
Living with the Sea examines the role of Marine Managed Areas in helping ocean species adapt, and even bounce back from, the increasing human impacts caused by global climate change and unsustainable development.
||People and Oceans (PDF - 11.5MB) |
Giselle Samonte, Leah Bunce Karrer, and Michael Orbach
In People and Oceans, scientists highlight the direct connection between a healthy ocean and human wellbeing, which include improved livelihoods, better food security, and increased support for cultural traditions.
||Marine Managed Areas: What, why, where (PDF - 22.1MB) |
Michael Orbach and Leah Bunce Karrer
Marine Managed Areas: What, Why, and Where lays out a roadmap to successfully implement and navigate the challenges of new MMAs.
Besides CI, other major partners within the Science-to-Action network include the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, National Geographic, the World Fish Center, the Southern Environmental Association (SEA), the Healthy Reefs Initiative, Boston University, Duke University and the University of Belize.