Question: What is the relationship between MCAs and climate change?
Answer: Marine Conservation Agreement can help mitigate the impacts of climate change while climate change can affect the targets and boundaries of Marine Conservation Agreements.
Mitigation of Climate Change Impacts
Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs) can be used to restore and protect fragile coastal and marine ecosystems such as barrier islands, shellfish reefs, coral reefs, seagrass beds, mangrove forests, and coastal forests, all of which can attenuate the effects of global climate change, such as sea level rise and storm surges. Restoring and protecting these natural areas can also moderate local climates and increase carbon sequestration. When undertaken in collaboration with nature-oriented businesses, MCAs can improve social and economic conditions of coastal communities through fisheries, mariculture, and tourism activities. Improved social and economic conditions better enable coastal communities to prepare for and respond to climate change impacts.
Climate Change Effect on Conservation Targets
Predicting the impacts of climate change on marine and coastal ecosystems is challenging at best. Areas that contain important biodiversity that are targeted for protection by MCAs may change significantly as a result of sea level rise, sea temperature and salinity increases, and storm events. Many coastal ecosystems may migrate upland if the terrain allows for migration or disappear completely if the terrain does not allow for migration. While this constraint is not unique to MCAs, it is a consideration that must be accounted for when planning MCA projects. MCA project proponents must consider where and in what condition their conservation targets are today versus where and in what condition they may be in 25 to 50 years due to the effects of climate change. Legal MCA instruments should explicitly identify these possible changes as well as identify adaptive management principles as a means to account for them.
Climate Change Effect on MCA Boundaries
Climate change may also affect the physical boundaries associated with the rights, interests, or activities identified within MCAs. Boundaries may change as water levels and shoreline features change. Will the boundaries of the MCA migrate as the lands, resources and ecosystem services migrate or will the MCA remain stationary as the conservation targets migrate? These issues can and should be identified and resolved within the language of the MCA document, as they are now being addressed in some areas of the United States through “rolling easements.” For more information on shoreline boundary issues, climate change, and rolling easements, see Boundaries and these external resources: Rising Seas, Erosion Control Easements, Coastal Resilience and Adapting to Coastal Climate Change – A Guidebook for Development Planners.