A healthy ocean is vital to both the planet, and ourselves.
Unfortunately, humans can be thought of as a disease to natural places. Everywhere we touch with our impact – from warm tropical coral reefs, to the ice-cold tundra of the Arctic – becomes sick.
Humans overfish the waters, pollute the sea with plastic, and spill our oil. Thankfully there’s a medicine for our oceans, it’s called Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).
Unfortunately, MPAs cover only 4.8% of the ocean (2.2% is highly protected). This means that the vast majority of our oceans are in danger.
Marine Protected Areas and No-Take Zones
What exactly is an MPA? A marine protected area is an area in the sea which is managed by laws and enforcements that regulate human activities to protect marine ecosystems.
There are different types of MPAs and a No-Take Zone is one. A no-take zone is a strict MPA which restricts the removal of marine life and the altering of the habitat. No-take zones have greater restrictions on human activities than regular MPAs, so they allow for better recovery of the marine ecosystem. Therefore, no–take zones are better than regular MPAs.
But what exactly are the benefits of no-take zones?
Benefits of No-Take Zones to Nature
No-take zones have several positive effects on marine ecosystems which allow them to become healthier. These effects may be direct or indirect. Direct effects are those that arise from species that are exploited by the fishing industry; these species are referred to as targeted species. While indirect effects are those that arise from non-targeted species.
Increase fecundity – Since organisms aren’t being removed from the area, juveniles are able to reach maturity which allows them to reproduce. This means there are more adult fish in the water.
Increase in abundance – Adults are able to live longer (since they aren’t being targeted by fishing nets) which means they can reproduce multiple times. As a result, the population increases.
Increase in size – One evolutionary mechanism some marine life adopt to protect themselves is reducing the size at which they become mature. This happens because we exploit the largest fish at sea first, so if they mature quickly they can have enough time to reproduce. So currently, many fish are smaller than they once were. When we stop fishing we allow individual fish to live longer, and grow larger.
Increase in biomass – The increase in abundance and size results in an overall increase in biomass (the total mass of organisms in a given area).
Ecosystem Restoration – Improving the health of targeted species helps restore entire ecosystems back to ‘normal’. The delicate balance of predator and prey can now return to its unaltered state. From the seagrasses and corals that form the base, to the sharks that patrol the top of the food chain.
Resilience – A robust and diverse ecosystem is a resilient one. With abundant fish populations, and a more biodiverse ecosystem, the effects of climate change and pollution won’t hit these areas as hard.
Benefits of No-take Zones to Humans
No-take zones are not only beneficial to nature but they also provide benefits to humans. The fishing and tourism industries mainly benefit from no-take zones. The improvement of these industries provide huge economic benefits to countries.
Some people want to believe that no-take zones hinder the fishing industry and negatively affects the livelihood of fishermen. But actually, entirely the opposite happens thanks to recruitment and spillover effects.
Areas surrounding no-take zones receive larvae that drifts in (recruitment effect). And adult/juvenile organisms swim from no-take zones to surrounding areas (spillover effects).
This is all thanks to the increase in abundance of organisms in the no-take zones.
Fishermen see an increase in the abundance and size of their catches by fishing in these surround areas. And since the organisms increase in size, fishermen will receive a larger profit. The protection of marine life allows for longevity of the fishing industry by making sure species aren’t overexploited.
Many countries in the Caribbean (including Barbados) rely on the sea and marine life to attract tourists.
A restored ecosystem with healthy (better-looking) coral and an abundant population of species like colorful parrot fish attracts more tourists.
Ultimately, no-take zones make these ecosystems more attractive which improves the tourism industry. Just like the fishing industry, the tourism industry will have longevity since the main attraction is protected and is resilient to change.
A marine protected area is only as good as its enforcement.
Quality management determines whether a no-take zone is effective or not. Therefore, funding and resources need to be available to make sure this happens. No-take zones need to monitored to make sure that rules are being followed and this requires investments and manpower. Also, consequences need to be place for persons who break the law to discourage them from doing so.
Marine Parks in Barbados
Barbados has two marine parks; one that is an official MPA (Folkstone Park and Marine Reserve) and one that is an unofficial MPA (Carlisle Bay).
Article written by TerraMar’s Education Development Intern in Barbados – Micaela Small