MPA monitoring: Knowledge through partnerships

In a recent paper PISCO Principal Investigators Mark Carr, Pete Raimondi and Margaret McManus show that MPA monitoring must have a physical component to partner with the traditional ecological monitoring to accurately assess the effects of ecosystem change, in the coastal oceans, for example future climatic changes.

PISCO principal investigators, Margaret McManus, Pete Raimondi and Mark CarrPISCO Principal investigators, Clockwise: Margaret McManus, Mark Carr and Pete Raimondi

As increasing concerns arise over the state of ocean health, innovative solutions are used to protect and manage marine ecosystems. One of the new ecosystem based management tools are Marine Protected Areas, a tool that protects all the organisms and linkages within an ecosystem not just single species. While MPA’s are typically thought of in reference to conservation and protection of resources, they are useful to scientists as research tools to measure ecosystem wide effects as well as effects of more localized impacts like resource extraction.

By monitoring MPAs, scientists are able to provide a ‘natural baseline’ unaffected by localized impacts that are compared with test sites outside MPAs and evaluated to assess the difference in findings. These results are used to assess effectiveness of MPA’s, determine whether changes are affecting the broader ecosystem or if impacts are more localized and whether they meet targets, such as:

  • Increase the number of large individuals and / or the overall size of a fished population
  • Preserve relative abundances and functional roles of species within a community
  • Preserve or protect functional processes of an ecosystem

Effective monitoring is a critical component in assessing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). However, how do you know what the causes and drivers are for the changes observed within your monitored MPA?

PISCO subtidal diver monitors kelp forests marine protected area

Aside from localized perturbations to MPA’s such as resource extraction (fishing) and water quality degradation (non-point source pollution), larger scale processes such as larval dispersal, upwelling and tidal events all have the capability to affect the common variables used to measure MPA performance. However, by combining the results of ecological monitoring with physical parameters (for example those measured by the Integrated Ocean Observing Systems (IOOS)) the true drivers of observed ecological change can be shown. Additionally as more data are collected in conjunction, a more comprehensive understanding of the physical–biological coupling will enable scientists to understand and measure the effects of spatial management implementation and natural environmental variability.

Although monitoring alone will not provide a complete understanding of the interaction between the ecosystem and the physical environment, by designing an oceanographic monitoring network that incorporates observations of coastal conditions both within and outside an MPA we can reduce or minimize the potential for misinterpretation of MPA effectiveness and increase our understanding of how coastal ecosystems respond to changing ocean conditions.

M.H. Carr, C.B. Woodson, O.M. Cheriton, D. Malone, M.A. McManus, P.T. Raimondi, 2010, Knowledge through partnerships: integrating marine protected area monitoring and ocean observing systems, Front Ecol Environ 2010; doi:10.1890/090096

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