How do we decide where to place MPAs and reserves?
The design of MPAs and marine reserves - both at the individual and network level - involves a series of tradeoffs that must be balanced to meet the goals.
Individual Site Selection Criteria
MPAs and reserves are selected using natural, cultural, logistical, and/or socioeconomic criteria that may vary with different nations and programs. Some of the most common criteria include:
- Relative naturalness – selecting areas are still in good or nearly pristine condition;
- Representativeness – selecting areas that represent particular habitats or include important ecological functions such as spawning, nursery or feeding areas;
- Biodiversity – selecting areas with high diversity of species and/or areas with high rates of endemism (i.e., having species that are unique to a particular area or region);
- Vulnerability – selecting areas with biodiversity that is relatively susceptible to disturbance or destruction;
- Fisheries value – selecting areas that are strategic for enhancing fisheries, such as areas of high productivity or spawning grounds for targeted fish species;
- Tourism value – selecting areas that could, if protected, enhance appropriate recreational uses and tourism revenues;
- Practicality of management – selecting areas that allow for relative ease of management due to a range of factors, such as nearness to shore.
Scientific information can inform where a reserve should be located, how large a reserve should be and for networks of reserves, how many are needed and how close together they should be spaced. Additionally, increased attention to the human dimensions of marine reserves, including the social and economic factors that enhance the success of reserves, will be necessary to ensure effective management over the long term.
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