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Protecting marine areas in France… we need more than ‘paper parks’

18 June 2012

Since the early 1990s respected scientific articles have commonly reported that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are effective ecological and socio-economic tools to ensure the conservation of marine biodiversity and fisheries management. In recent years, scientists are generally more cautious and more specific when discussing the benefits of MPAs. An article in May by Mr Joachim Claudet, researcher at CNRS at the Centre for Island Research and Environment Observatory in Perpignan, France, addressed this issue in “Pour la Science” (a popular French scientific journal).

There are two types of MPAs: multi-use MPAs, where some activities can take place, and marine reserves, where both extractive (e.g. fishing) and non-extractive (e.g. recreation) uses are prohibited. An example of a marine reserve in France is Couronne Cape, near Marseille.

At the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2006, the French Government, along with other governments, committed to protect 10% of its Exclusive Economic Zone as MPAs by 2010. By 2010, only 1.2% of the French EEZ was designated as MPAs, which resulted in a push to quickly put more MPAs in place. However, as there was no uniform or legal definition of MPAs, with the rush to designate there was an inevitable temptation to declare different costal zones with different status and merits as MPAs. An example of this in France is the current Natura 2000 network, which many scientists believe does not fulfill the objective of long-term conservation of biological diversity and marine resources.

Another issue that raises questions about the effectiveness of MPAs is the growing trend of declaring vast swathes of the ocean as MPAs, as was seen in Mayotte, in the French Comores Islands. Confronted with strict evaluation criteria for MPAs, such areas would not be considered effective at preserving biodiversity and fulfilling both ecological and socio-economic objectives.

Finally, there is the case of MPAs that exist only on paper, either as a result of lack of enforcement, financial resources, or both. There is a clear example of this in French Polynesia, under the French Government’s jurisdiction.

The take-home message from Joachim Claudet, an MPA expert, is that it is equally risky not to protect our marine resources through MPAs or other management tools, as it is to protect them inadequately only to fulfill international agreements. MPAs should be more than ‘paper parks’ and need to have an effective long-term management plan, buy-in from stakeholders, and financial resources to ensure compliance, enforcement, and ultimately, effectiveness.

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