3. A tide of change

Posted: 13 October 2000

Author: Sue Wells

Author Info: Sue Wells is Marine Programme Co-ordinator at WWF International.

Conservation efforts for oceans and coasts have lagged behind those for the terrestrial environment for many years. But there is at last a significant reaction to the pending ocean crisis, symbolised by the designation of 1998 as the Year of the Ocean. Sue Wells introduces our global report on recent efforts to manage the oceans.

Marine resource management earlier this century used essentially a species-by-species approach: cod, haddock, turtles, whales. As other articles in this issue have shown, the species approach to fisheries management has largely failed, although for larger, rarer species with particular conservation needs, such as turtles and whales, it has been more successful.

Sea turtle - an endangered species© Rafel Al Ma ary/Still PicturesHowever, increasingly it became clear that protection of critical habitats was equally important for the survival of threatened marine species and for maintenance of healthy fishery stocks. This realisation has resulted in the establishment of marine protected areas, ranging from small, highly regulated reserves to protect threatened species and marine biodiversity (such as marine reserves in the United Kingdom), to larger, zoned, multiple-use parks where recreation and limited fishing are permitted in certain areas (such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in Australia).

As marine protected areas have steadily increased in number (there are now about 1000), so the difficulty of managing them effectively has become more apparent. There is frequently a conflict between the different users of an area, such as fishermen and divers, well illustrated in the case of Florida's Marine Sanctuary. Furthermore, protected areas often have a 'honey-pot' effect, attracting hundreds of visitors with their promise of pristine habitats and diverse wildlife - a situation seen nowhere more clearly than in the Galapagos.

Equally importantly, and even more difficult to tackle, are the activities taking place outside the protected area that cause pollution, siltation and depletion of species populations, and which may make meaningless any work put into managing visitors, installing mooring buoys, or regulating fishing within the area.

Ocean and coastal management must therefore be looked at in the broadest possible sense. Fisheries management must take into account all the parameters on which a fishery stock depends (spawning, nursery, feeding areas, as well as interactions with other species such as prey). In coastal waters, 'integrated coastal management', which means managing the coastal zone and its watershed as a single unit, is now widely recognised as more appropriate approach, although it is difficult to implement and there are few successful case studies.

Within this broader framework, marine protected areas are still essential to protect critical habitats and threatened species, but equal emphasis is put on a whole range of management issues such as land use planning, pollution control, and environmentally sound agricultural and building practices. To achieve successful integration, all those responsible for these activities, including government agencies, business and industry, farmers, fishers and local people, need to be able to share their concerns and jointly develop solutions. coral reefCoral reef, Mala, Tonga, South Pacific© Pete Atkinson/Planet Earth PicturesThe evolution of such management approaches can be seen in many places, such as Turkey, where WWF and the National Society for the Protection of Nature (DHKD) have been working since 1988 to protect the few remaining nesting sites in the Mediterranean of the endangered loggerhead and green sea turtles. The first success was to halt a huge tourist development complex at Dalyan, one of the main nesting sites. This area and three other important nesting beaches were subsequently declared protected areas. However, tourism, as a vital economic activity in the area, has continued to grow and so WWF and DHKD are helping to develop a comprehensive management plan for the Belek coast, covering economic and social issues and involving local people.

Similar integrated planning approaches may be needed for the high seas and deep oceans. Here we lag even further behind management of coastal waters, lacking even the legal infrastructure to establish protected areas (other than whale sanctuaries) on the high seas. With increasing exploration, and now exploitation, of these areas for oil, gas, minerals and pelagic fishery stocks, this will become a pressing concern in the next century.

Our long-cherished concept of the 'freedom of the seas' has now been challenged, and we will probably have to recognise that it is a thing of the past, at least with respect to marine resources.

We can however learn from places where the marine environment and its resources have been accorded greater respect. Centuries back, in many parts of the Pacific, coastal communities evolved systems by which they regulated their use of marine resources through tenure systems and customary rights, often handed down through families and lineages. These systems have been eroded but are now being resuscitated and often given official recognition, as we come to realise that those who use the marine environment must be involved with, have some control over, and take some responsibility for its management.

Where such traditions do not exist, the models they provide can nevertheless be used, as in the Banc d'Arguin National Park in Mauritania, where the Imraguen fishers have been given fishing rights within the park. Many fishing and coastal communities are now playing key roles in the management of the world's oceans and coasts. If governments and nations recognise their own roles, change current detrimental policies and make wise decisions on marine resource management, there is hope for the future.