Myth 6: Marine Conservation Agreements are too small and isolated.
Fact 6: While some Marine Conservation Agreements can be as small as 0.05 square kilometers, others have led to the protection of 410,000 square kilometers of ocean.
This myth suggests that spatial factors severely limit the ability of Marine Conservation Agreements (MCAs) to protect biodiversity over the long term.1 While it is true that MCAs can be smaller than government established MPAs, MCAs can also be used in several ways to provide meaningful, integrated protection of ocean and coastal areas. MCAs can:
- Directly establish protection in very large areas
- Directly establish protection in small areas that are ecologically networked to other protected sites
- Indirectly establish protection from leverage, by influencing decision-making that affects large areas
- Directly establish protection of biodiversity that has limited spatial and temporal needs
MCAs can be used to establish protection in large ocean and coastal areas. In Kiribati, the New England Aquarium and Conservation International used a reverse fishing license to help establish protection of over 400,000 square kilometers of ocean. In Indonesia, the Misool Ecoresort used a lease to establish protection of 200 square kilometers of ocean. And in New York State within the United States, The Nature Conservancy used purchase and sale agreements to establish protection of over 56 square kilometers of Great South Bay.
Small MCAs can overcome their size limitations by providing ecological connectivity to additional MCAs and MPAs or to larger protected areas. For example, in the United Kingdom, the National Trust has acquired interests in numerous small coastal parcels that, in total, provide protection for 700 miles of coastline, representing nearly 10% of the total coastline in the UK. In Tanzania , the Chumbe Island Coral Park provides protection of a small marine site which is located near a much larger marine protected area.
The use of MCAs to provide protection of small marine sites can also provide conservation organizations with vested interests in ocean and coastal areas which they can use to influence decision making processes and initiate large-scale management schemes such as marine spatial planning, ocean zoning, and ecosystem-based management. In Washington State, The Nature Conservancy used a small, 0.05 square kilometer shellfish restoration lease at Woodard Bay to encourage sediment cleanup of the entire bay and influence where state aquatic reserves are located throughout the entirety of Puget Sound. In Ecuador, Conservation International used a conservation agreement with the local community to influence how management and protection of a newly established MPA would be undertaken. And in Fiji, the University of South Pacific used agreements between local communities and for-profit companies to provide income from very small sites to support protection and management of much larger Locally-Managed Marine Areas.
Significant Small-scale MCAs
A final point is that even small and isolated MCAs can effectively maintain biodiversity that has limited spatial and temporal needs.1 This is especially the case when protecting centers of plant diversity where seed dispersal is limited and when protecting habitat for migratory species, whose requirements are temporary, small and must be dispersed along lengthy migratory routes. For example, The Nature Conservancy protected 16 square kilometers of intertidal migratory habitat through purchase and sale agreements in Port Susan Bay located in Washington State.