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Ellen pikitch

Stony Brook’s Ellen Pikitch from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) is part of an international team of scientists that developed a novel scientific framework to consistently understand, plan, establish, evaluate and monitor ocean protection in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Published in Science, the guide is the result of a decade of collaborative research and comes at a key time as countries prepare to negotiate the target of protecting at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030 at the upcoming virtual meeting on Biological Diversity in October.

Ellen Pikitch, Ellen Pikitch, Endowed Professor of Ocean Conservation Science at SoMAS
Ellen Pikitch, Endowed Professor of Ocean Conservation Science at SoMAS

Authored by 42 marine and social scientists from 38 institutions across six continents, The MPA Guide: A Framework to Achieve Global Goals for the Ocean, enables the global community to advance understanding of ocean protection and achieve global goals to reverse biodiversity loss through MPAs. The MPA Guide categorizes each area according to four levels of protection (full, high, light or minimal), tracks whether protection has been activated in the water, and matches both of those with the benefits the MPA can expect to deliver.

“For the first time, we have an authoritative tool to predict MPA outcomes from actions. We will be able to use this guide to strengthen existing MPAs and build new ones that have a high likelihood of producing major benefits for people and nature,” said Pikitch, Endowed Professor of Ocean Conservation Science at SoMAS.

With more than 20 years of experience working in MPAs around the globe, Pikitch’s contributions to the study focused on developing expected outcomes of MPAs in relation to how strongly they are protected. For example, MPAs that are strictly no-take areas typically produce much more diverse fish communities, with greater numbers and larger sizes of fish than MPAs that permit extensive extractive or destructive activities.

According to the authors, urgent interventions are needed to sustain the health of the ocean, build its resilience to disruption from climate change and other stressors, and enable people to thrive from the full range of benefits provided by healthy and productive ocean ecosystems. These include the provision of food and livelihoods, carbon sequestration and storage, opportunities for recreation, inspiration and cultural heritage. However, sustained exploitation and extraction of the ocean, facilitated by technological advances, has impacted its resilience against multiple threats and its ability to continue delivering benefits for people and nature.

Pikitch explains that the scientific team looked to develop a consistent framework on how to categorize MPAs. While MPAs are a central tool for ocean conservation, not all MPAs are the same. There are wide-ranging types of MPAs with various goals, regulations, and consequently, outcomes. This variety causes confusion. For example, some MPAs allow fishing, aquaculture and anchoring, while others do not. Some MPAs are counted on paper but are not active in the ocean.

By providing the science, evidence and framework to categorize different types of MPAs and track their progress, The MPA Guide aims to equip all stakeholders with the tools and practical guidance they need to ensure MPAs are designed optimally to deliver on their goals, to conserve biodiversity and benefit people.

There are four core components to The MPA Guide:

  • Stages of Establishment specifies an MPA’s status — whether it only exists on paper or is in operation.
  • Levels of Protection clarifies the degree to which biodiversity is protected from extractive or destructive activities.
  • Enabling Conditions provide the principles and processes needed to plan, design and govern a successful MPA.
  • Outcomes describe the conservation and social results that can be expected from an MPA at a particular stage and level, provided the enabling conditions are in place.

The MPA Guide will be continually tested and adjusted by the international team of scientists. National trials are underway in the United States, France and Indonesia, where MPA experts are using the guide to categorize existing MPAs so that communities and governments can make informed decisions.

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