January 30, 2012
Marine protected areas or MPA’s have become a major part of marine ecosystem management plans. According to Hamilton et al.’s 2009 paper in Sustainability Science, MPA’s have proven to have enormous conservation benefits in the areas where they have been implemented. After five years of protection in the Channel Islands Hamilton et al. found that there were significantly higher densities and biomass of targeted fish species inside the reserves compared with outside. In addition, Roberts et al. found that marine protected areas play a key role in supporting nearby fisheries. The evidence of these researchers reveals that MPA’a are an effective means of protecting ecosystems but what happens if people refuse to abide by the parameters of the MPA and if local governments can’t do anything about it?
On July 18th, 2011 an industrial fishing vessel from Ecuador, the Fer Mary 1, was caught with what turned out to be the biggest case of shark killing in the history of the Galapagos National Park. The Fer Mary 1 was detected by the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) used by the Galapagos National Park Service (GNPS). The GNPS sent a crew to intercept the vessel operating 20 nautical miles inside the Galapagos’s Marine Reserve. They found 357 different species of shark, including one Mako, protected under the Convention on Migratory Species, and several species on the IUCN’s red list. All shark species are protected inside the reserve. Despite the clear evidence the crew has not even been charged yet. According to Galapagos law, if the crew is convicted they could get up to 3 years in prison. They have not even been officially charged yet. An investigation was opened and the crew was detained but on August 3rd, 2011 they were released by the order of a judge. In order for the case to move forward all parties will have to return to the island, but history has shown that when asked to return the accused do not. Police do have the authority to detain them and transport them back but the budget to do so does not exist. In addition the court has declared itself “incompetent” in dealing with environmental crimes.
So hundreds of sharks were poached in a marine reserve and their function within the ecosystem will likely be disturbed. Yet, those who clearly violated the law faced no punishment because of the ineffectiveness of the local judiciary.
The enforcement mechanisms off our own coast have proven to be effective so far. In 2009, the Risa Lynn was given a $10,000 fine for illegally fishing in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary south of Anacapa and Santa Cruz. It was a coordinated effort by the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement, the CA Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Coast Guard. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ole/news/news_SWD_081009.htm
Therefore, the probability of poaching and the effectiveness in deterring poachers with the strength of enforcement mechanisms should be considered to a greater extent when analyzing the effectiveness of a marine reserve.
In addition, (since marine protected areas around the world are very important parts of the greater ocean ecosystem and vital to the biodiversity of the planet) should we and do we have the responsibility to help protect areas like the Galapagos and other marine protected areas around the world?
This post was written by Evelyn Cintron, a senior (BA) majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Biological Natural Science.