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  • Kat

How Do You Make a Marine Reserve?

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

How are marine reserves planned? Last week, I had the opportunity to see this process in action when I had the opportunity to participate in my first-ever scientific working group in Ensenada, Mexico. Our goal was to discuss ideas and exchange data related to the biological and physical factors that might influence the location/size/coverage of marine reserves along the Pacific coast of Baja, Mexico. This area is home to valuable fisheries as well as ecologically important ecosystems and endemic species. Marine reserves where fishing and other impacts are minimized have been shown to replenish surrounding areas and can help create sustainable fisheries.

The members of the working group are split into six different subgroups, each with a special focus (check out the schematic I made below). Each group will conduct a literature review and data analysis for their section, with the sections later combined to form one large review paper. I'm in the connectivity group, which aims to understand how potential reserves might be connected to one another through larval or adult movements (I'm focused on the larval part!) Each group will make sure to discuss 3-4 "pet" species, in addition to kelp, that are commercially or ecologically important (some options for those animals are shown at the bottom of the schematic).

schematic biophysical marine reserve principles
Schematic showing the six principles that will be covered by our review paper. At the bottom are the five potential animal species that we might focus on (if you have data or a strong feeling about which ones we should choose, let us know!)

I was added to the working group a few months ago by a faculty member in my department. When they initially planned the working group in Mexico, I was at first hesitant to sign up, knowing that it would be my third time driving to Mexico in about two months, and I wasn't sure if I would be of much help. But the group ended up having funding to help folks attend, so I made sure I had my podcasts and tea ready and set off.

Initially, I had some serious imposter syndrome, and was worried that I didn't have much to contribute -- I'm just a graduate student, and I don't know much about marine reserves in Mexico. But when I arrived, I was comforted by the fact that many of the other participants were also students, and I went away from the meeting with a few new responsibilities.

One of the highlights of the working group was hearing from fishermen in the northern Baja region. Much of the fishing in this region of Mexico is managed from the ground-up by collectivos (fishing collectives) that often have their own system of area closures and replenishment zones. It was insightful to hear their opinions on what factors should go into marine reserves, how they have seen the ecosystem changing, and what the process is for replenishment zones in their collective.

Baja fishermen panel
Panel of fishermen and fishing consultants

The other highlight for me was getting to talk about running larval dispersal models to examine connectivity from Mexico to Oregon. When I first started at UCSC, this project was one of my first ideas -- but the modeling work required would have taken all five years to learn and implement, and I went with other approaches. Now, I'm thrilled that that dream is coming true, and I get to be a part of the group that will work on it!

Sunset view in Ensenada
Sunset view of UABC in Ensenada from the room where the working group was held

Here is a full press release about the working group, in both English and Spanish:

Con el objetivo de impulsar los principios biofísicos que promoverán un diseño, establecimiento y manejo efectivo de una red de zonas de recuperación en la costa del Pacífico de la Península de Baja California, se está llevando a cabo un taller en la Universidad Autónoma de Baja California, Ensenada. La meta de este esfuerzo es maximizar los beneficios para el manejo pesquero, protección de la biodiversidad, adaptación al cambio climático y el bienestar humano. Más de 30 investigadores de diferentes universidades y centros de investigación de México, Estados Unidos, y Australia, manejadores, y Sociedades Cooperativas (Buzos y Pescadores y Ensenada) están participando en este esfuerzo que está siendo apoyado por la organización civil Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), UC-Mexus, el Instituto de Investigación de Scripps, la Universidad de Queensland y la Universidad Autónoma de Baja California. Los diferentes grupos de trabajo han presentado avances para integrar la mejor información científica disponible con relación a la representación y replicación de hábitats, protección de áreas críticas y únicas, conectividad, tiempo de recuperación, adaptación al cambio climático y minimizar amenazas locales.

A workshop is being held at the Autonomous University of Baja California to impulse the biophysical principles which will promote the design, establishment and effective management of a network of replenishment zones in the Pacific coasts of Baja California Peninsula. The goal of this effort is to maximize the benefits for the fisheries sector, protect biodiversity, promote adaptation strategies for climate change and improve human welfare. Over 30 researchers from different universities and research centers from Mexico, the United States, and Australia, as well as managers and fishing cooperatives (SCPP Buzos y Pescadores y Ensenada), are participating in this effort, supported by the civil organization Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), UC-Mexus, Scripps Institute of Research, the University of Queensland and the Autonomous University of Baja California. The different working groups are presenting their advances to integrate the best available science related to habitat representation and replication, protection of critical and unique areas, marine connectivity, time for recovery, adaptation to climate change, and minimizing local threats.


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