Marine protected areas (MPAs) are increasingly advocated as a tool for shark and ray conservation. However, maximising outcomes for shark and ray MPAs requires understanding where and when spatial protections can provide the greatest benefits. This begs the question – what benefits are we seeking in using MPAs for sharks and rays, and how can those benefits be realised? Despite recent gains in the number of MPAs that have shark and/or ray conservation as an explicit goal, the answer to these questions are not yet clear.
Our new paper just published in Fish and Fisheries and led by Tracy MacKeracher with Amy Diedrich and Colin Simpfendorfer aimed to answer these questions by interviewing experts from around the world with different expertise and experience in MPAs and shark and ray conservation. We wanted to know:
1. In creating MPAs for sharks and rays, what are the most important outcomes?
2. What are the main factors that influence their success?
What we found was a disconnect. While social factors were recognized as most important for success, biological outcomes (e.g. increased shark abundance) were emphasized over social outcomes (e.g. livelihood benefits). However, given that achieving biological outcomes depends on local support and compliance, efforts to protect sharks and rays using MPAs can benefit from a stronger focus on achieving social outcomes. Achieving these social outcomes requires understanding the socioeconomic context within which an MPA is established. This socioeconomic information (e.g. level of resource dependence, capacity for enforcement, alternative livelihood options etc.) can then be incorporated with species-level information (e.g. distributions, habitat use) to prioritise areas for protection to regions with the greatest need and/or likelihood for long-term success.
This paper constitutes a key output of our Shark Ray MPA Project, which is funded by the Shark Conservation Fund, where we are working to produce a set of objective products that conservation decision makers, policy makers, funders, advocates and scientists can use to make informed decisions about the use of MPAs to improve population outcomes for sharks and rays.
Access our paper here: http://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12337