The intensity of human pressure on marine systems has led to a push for stronger marine conservation efforts. Recently, marine reserves have become one highly advocated form of marine conservation, and the number of newly designated reserves has increased dramatically. Reserves will be essential for conservation efforts because they can provide unique protection for critical areas, they can provide a spatial escape for intensely exploited species, and they can potentially act as buffers against some management miscalculations and unforeseen or unusual conditions. Reserve design and effectiveness can be dramatically improved by better use of existing scientific understanding. Reserves are insufficient protection alone, however, because they are not isolated from all critical impacts. Communities residing within marine reserves are strongly influenced by the highly variable conditions of the water masses that continuously flow through them. To a much greater degree than in terrestrial systems, the scales of fundamental processes, such as population replenishment, are often much larger than reserves can encompass. Further, they offer no protection from some important threats, such as contamination by chemicals. Therefore, without adequate protection of species and ecosystems outside reserves, effectiveness of reserves will be severely compromised. We outline conditions under which reserves are likely to be effective, provide some guidelines for increasing their conservation potential, and suggest some research priorities to fill critical information gaps. We strongly support vastly increasing the number and size of marine reserves; at the same time, strong conservation efforts outside reserves must complement this effort. To date, most reserve design and site selection have involved little scientific justification. They must begin to do so to increase the likelihood of attaining conservation objectives.
Ecological Applications – Ecological Society of America
Published: Feb 1, 1998
Keywords: biodiversity ; harvest refugia ; marine parks ; marine protected areas ; open populations ; population replenishment ; reserve design
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