Marine reserves are legally designated places in the ocean where commercial and recreational fishing are not allowed. As anthropogenic threats such as pollution, overfishing, destructive tourism practices, and significantly better fishing technologies have developed over time, so too has the need for protection of these habitats and species. Marine reserves create a refuge for exploited populations and their natural habitats; the management goal is to rebuild the depleted ecosystem back to a state in which it can thrive. The ability of a depleted ecosystem to regain resiliency depends on the specific boundaries applied to the reserve; in general the larger the area that is designed as reserve or a network or smaller reserves working in concert, the more successful the reserve setup will be over generations. Most marine reserves are small in size, typically less than a square kilometer, and despite this small size, many species respond positively to the protection.
Global distribution of marine reserves.
An important goal of fisheries and marine reserve management is to integrate an ocean-wide network of marine reserves. This network will directly protect fish, mammal and invertebrate populations and their critical habitat, and stave off global losses in fisheries landings and ultimately reversed them. The reversal from fisheries losses to fisheries gains is the consequence of marine reserve protection and sustainable fishing practices. Networks of marine reserves offer the best protection against overfishing within a specific region by connecting the dispersal of eggs and larvae to juvenile and adult migration paths. Networks are also important opportunities to build scientific understanding of complex marine ecosystems by protecting populations that depend on one another, from harmful human activities. Some remote marine reserves, despite being pristine areas with lightly exploited populations, such as those in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands may be the best candidates for protection from a management perspective. These are considered the “low hanging fruit,” from an economic and social perspective. Their remote location and narrowly affected area is a great chance for conservation to protect this marine ecosystem against future destruction, a pro-active management decision. More heavily exploited areas with marine environments in close proximity to big cities may show stronger responses to reserve protection, but their success depends on management and decreased instances of human disturbance, like pollution and runoff.
Marine reserves as a tool for marine conservation include many benefits; long lasting and often rapid increases in abundance, diversity and reproductive capacity of fish populations inside of the no take reserves are just a few. Other evidence indicates marine reserves leads decreased mortality, decreased habitat destruction, decreased extinction, and the foundation for a balanced, healthy ecosystem. Reserves are also excellent sites for collecting valuable fishery-independent data. Fishery independent data is data that does not rely on fisheries to report, which is preferred in many cases because fishery reported data is frequently flawed. In many cases, the larger the reserve are, the greater the increase in ecosystem benefits, however even small reserves can generate positive effects if they are part of a large reserve network.
One of the most important benefits for fisheries is the size and abundance of commercially harvested fish increase in areas adjacent to reserves. Networks of reserves buffer against environmental variability and provide significantly better protection for marine neighborhoods than a single reserve. Reserve networks that span large geographic distances and encompass substantial areas protect against catastrophic events and provide stable platforms for sustainable marine communities in the long term.
Marine conservation biologists still question whether the reserves will be sustainable in the long term and how much sustainability depends on the links with other reserves, or how important having a network of reserves is for overall protection. Another important question; can the present or local knowledge help to figure out where to place a reserve for maximum suitability and fishery support from larval and adult spillover effects, since fishery enhancement only occurs when reserves are linked with the protection and proliferation of commercially important fish species. Scientists will continue to make progress in improving the benefits garnered from marine reserves, from the ideal size to the best placement. In the current stage of protection, every additional reserve is beneficial and spillover effects are one of the best techniques to sustainably enhance fisheries.
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