Marine protected area status can increase fish populations by up to 400%

Protecting areas of ocean and coasts with “whole-site” marine protected area (MPA) status can lead to a four-fold increase in the abundance and diversity of marine life, according to a new study. fish populations.

Researchers from the University of Plymouth have been monitoring the impact of the Lyme Bay MPA since its designation in 2008.

They found that the number of different fish species inside the controlled area is now more than four times (430%) higher than that found outside the MPA boundaries.

In terms of overall abundance, there are 370% more fish in the MPA than in similar areas outside where bottom tow fishing is still permitted.

The study also showed that the range of commercially important fish species outside the MPA has increased over the 11-year period following designation.

Taken together, they say this demonstrates the importance of implementing site-wide protection for marine habitats – where the most destructive activities such as scallop dredging are excluded from the entire MPA. – and how such a practice can benefit and maintain a sustainable fishery. and species important for conservation.

The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecologyis the result of regular monitoring using underwater video cameras.

Each year, the researchers recorded baited video surveys inside and outside the boundaries of the MPA to monitor the area’s fish population.

Over 11 years, this has resulted in the observation of over 13,000 individual organisms ranging from small scavenger invertebrates such as whelks, starfish and hermit crabs to large, highly mobile predatory vertebrates such as sharks and the rays.

Bede Davies, who is currently completing his doctorate at the University of Plymouth, is the lead author of the study. He said: “This research is the culmination of years of hard work and collaboration between University researchers and Lyme Bay fishers. It shows how the trade-off between conservation and fisheries management can affect entire ecosystems, local habitats and those who depend on them. also stresses the need for long-term monitoring of MPAs and that, when managed appropriately, they can provide significant benefits to fisheries and conservation. »

The Lyme Bay MPA was the first and largest example in the UK of an ambitious and comprehensive approach to marine protection, designed to manage, restore and protect reef biodiversity taking into account the entire ecosystem.

It excluded bottom towed fishing for 206 km2 waters off the south coast of England, protecting a mosaic of habitats from regular harm, while allowing for less destructive fishing methods, such as fixed gear, rod and line and diving.

The University’s work in Lyme Bay, which has been funded at various stages by Defra, Natural England, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the Blue Marine Foundation, has been carried out in collaboration with local fishermen and other community groups along Dorset and Devon. littoral.

Recommendations from this ongoing work have been included in the government’s 25-year environmental plan and a major UK government report on Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), led by former Defra Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon.

Dr Emma Sheehan, associate professor of marine ecology (research), led the University’s work in Lyme Bay and is the lead author of the current study.

She added: “Globally, the implementation of MPAs has increased rapidly over the past 25 years. They are a key part of international plans to protect and preserve the ocean, but as things stand, only 7.9% of the global ocean is covered by such Our ongoing work in Lyme Bay has shown the positive effects of addressing this issue, and in the face of the global climate and biodiversity crises, the need to do so has never been so urgent.

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