[Coral-List] Chagos Marine Protected Area

Douglas Fenner dfenner at blueskynet.as
Fri Oct 29 03:04:52 EDT 2010

   One thing I'm not so sure of the wisdom of, or rationale for, is the
inclusion of huge amounts of deep, open ocean in MPAs that are primarily for 
coral reefs.  This has become a popular thing, with the NW Hawaiian Islands
in the US, and the Phoenix Is in Kiribati in the Pacific both encompasing
huge ocean areas, in addition to the Chagos proposal.  The Great Barrier
Reef Marine Park includes a huge water area, but it has thousands of reefs
spread around in its area, and continental shelf water between the reefs
which is exploted in some areas by things like shrimp trawling,
having affects on various biota.  So it really is able to protect things in 
the water between reefs.  Where I work in American Samoa, a new
Monument is for Rose Atoll, an atoll about 1 mile in diameter.  A 50 mile
square around the atoll was included in the designation.  That area impinges
on some traditional tuna fishing areas of some of our populated out islands. 
impression is that there is no quarrel here with protecting the Rose Atoll
reefs.  But the slopes are very steep and the coral extends only a few
hundred meters from the surf line, beyond that it is too deep for coral, and
a few miles off shore, you reach abyssal plain depths, where nothing can be
exploited.  There are no other reefs in the 50 mile square.
       To my knowledge, a clear explanation of why the huge area of ocean
around the reef must be closed has not been provided yet.  I suspect that
some people think
that the farther the boundary is out from the reef, the better protected the
reef is.  I question that.  The only thing that could make a difference for
protecting the reef is if it helped detect vessels before they could reach
the reef, and thus deter illegal use.  VMS (Vessel Monitoring Systems) can
presumably detect vessel location to the accuracy of GPS, so 10 m or less,
well less than the length of the vessel.  I don't think the boundary should
be at the water line, since reef extends out from the reef crest about
100-200 m, in other locations is will be much further.  You need to know 
that the boundary is far enough out that a vessel is clearly within the 
boundary before it can reach reef.
Even 3 miles from the crest would do that for Rose Atoll.  I'm not an expert
on vessel detecton and enforcement of MPA boundaries in open ocean, but
unless the boundary helps with enforcement, then assisting MPA enforcement
isn't a
justification for closing a large area of ocean.
     Other people clearly think that closing open ocean to exploitation
protects ocean resources, such as sharks.  Indeed there is much evidence as
I understand it that some shark species are in need of protection, some of
which are pelagic sharks.  (Reef sharks and pelagic sharks are quite
different species, I believe)  But in general, tuna, tuna-like species, and
other pelagic fish species are what are called "highly migratory."  They
range over huge areas, can swim thousands of miles, and mix constantly.  If
you mark off a 50 square mile on a map and prohibit fishing for these 
within that area, you will have no effect whatsoever on protecting those
species.  They will swim in and out of that 50 mile square, and fishers can
catch them all outside the square, they just have to wait until they swim
out.  Even individual nations cannot manage these fish species, even when
the nation controls a vast EEZ  (Exclusive Economic Zone) such as the EEZ
around French Polynesia, which is as large an area as Europe.  That is small
compared to the Pacific Ocean.  To manage (and protect) these species
requires the cooperation of all nations involved in fishing for them in the
entire ocean.  All those nations are involved in international tuna
management councils, there is one for the Indian O, one for the Atlantic,
one for the eastern Pacific, and a new one for the rest of the Pacific.  If
those countries don't cooperate, no one country can manage those species
(Though the leading one or two distant fishing nations could have a big
effect, the others could not.)  MPA's the size of these huge new reserves
cannot manage these pelagic fish species, they are way too small.  Now I'm
not an expert on all pelagic fisheries, and there may be a few species that
are not
highly migratory, in which case an MPA might be effective for those species
only (but they would be minor components of any catch).  But the only ones
that are not migratory I know of are drifters like jellyfish and
      I would also point out that the larger the area you enclose within
that line you draw on the map (and the line itself does not exist except on
the map, it does not define any kind of biological or physical boundary that
exists in nature) the larger the area there is to enforce.  Perhaps there
are clever ways to remotely scan in real time a vast area of ocean and
detect a small wooden fishing boat, and then send a patrol boat out to check
it out.  But I suspect that at the moment that is a science fiction dream.
Many boats are not fitted with VMS, particularly in developing countries.
Radar works only for short distances, and you need a base for it, either an
island or a ship, and a team to operate and maintain it, plus the money to
pay for it.  Correct me if I'm
wrong, but the bigger you make the ocean area, the more difficult or 
impossible it is to
enforce the closure.  These big MPAs may make enforcement a impossible-
particularly in a place like the Phoenix Is of Kiribati, which are very very
remote, and the islands very tiny, and the nation has no resources.  What is
to keep a passing ship from stopping at any of those remote islands and
cleaning out the reef fish?  Nobody there to detect them, let alone stop
them.  And if they are out in the open ocean, stop them from tuna fishing?
Most tuna boats have VMS, I presume, so that might actually be easier than a
non-tuna boat that wants to exploit the reef.  But you still have to pay for 
sending a patrol boat out.  Another option is patrolling by plane, but that 
is so expensive that even wealthy countries only do it on occasion. 
Further, simply having a boat or ship within the dotted lines of the 
boundaries is not an offense, as part of the EEZ, there is a right of 
innocent passage.  You have to catch someone in an illegal act, and remote 
detection can't do that.
     To me, closing off tuna fishing grounds which cannot possibly manage
tuna stocks, if it does not have a good rationale for why it helps protect
the reef, just serves to harrass tuna fishers engaged in legitimate economic
activity.  Tuna and particularly
pelagic sharks, need good managment and protection, but that requires a very
different tool than a pelagic MPA, it requires international cooperation
between the fishing nations.  For different jobs you need different tools,
and the MPA tool just isn't a useful tool for managing pelagic fish stocks.
There is such a tool, and the pelagic fish species do need good management
are papers documenting some of the pelagic sharks are a tiny fraction of
their original
stocks).  International fisheries managment agencies are the only tool with
any chance of being effective, and if they are not doing their job, that is
the fault of the national governments involved, and nothing other than
correcting that can possibly save these species.  As of a few years ago,
overfishing of bigeye tuna and yellowfin tuna had been occurring continually
in the Pacific for about 11 years straight.  Although overfishing was
occurring (they were being taken at an unsustainable rate) they had not yet
reached an overfished stock status (the total number was not yet below the
Maximum Sustainable Yield level), though if practices continued they would
reach that at some point.  Promises by major distant fishing nations to
their fleets had not happened.  The two largest fishing fleets in the
Pacific are from Japan and Taiwan, I believe.  I also remember that there
was far too little data from the Philippines and Indonesia about how much
they were catching.  But I am not a professional in these fisheries
management areas, let alone an expert.  (some sharks are likely in much
worse shape that tuna, and tuna in different oceans can be in different
     But my feeling is that drawing a line on a map way out from coral reefs
to include thousands of square miles of open ocean, may be a
feel-good exercise that actually does little if any good, and imposes an
impossible burden on enforcement.
     These are my personal opinions.  Keep in mind that not only am I not an
expert in
pelagic fisheries, but I have never read any of the plans or rationales for
any of these huge reserves.  If these sorts of concerns have been addressed
in those plans, I congratulate their writers, and invite them to educate us.

Douglas Fenner

News from "Science Now":  "Record Hot Summer Wrecks Havoc."

Science Now reports that NASA says this year so far is the hottest on record 
in the 131 years of record keeping.  Nearly 0.7 C hotter than the average 
from 1951 to 1980, and NOAA has found essentially the same thing using 
different data.  Nightime temperatures hit record highs in 37 states this 
summer.  The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, has 
found near-record ice area loss so far this year in the Arctic, and expects 
the area to hit a record low this year.  Ice volume is at a record low, 
10,000 cubic kilometers lower than the average of the last 30 years.  Ice 
volume is being lost at 17% per decade.


More information about the Coral-List mailing list