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Mexico: "no-take" solution brings life back to ocean - depleted marine reserve sees fish increase fourfold in single decade


By WcP.Common.Sense - Posted on 12 August 2011

the no-take reserve at Cabo Pulmo is full of fish schools

a 1.2-meter-long gulf grouper (Mycteroperca jordani) is among the large predators that have returned to Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park after a fishing ban

A group of bigeye trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus) forms a spawning aggregation. Such populations have returned to the waters of the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park after a fishing ban.

(quote)

An Ocean Miracle in Cabo Pulmo National Park, Baja California, Mexico - Can We Have More of This, Please?
For generations we have been taking fish out of the ocean at a rate faster than they can reproduce. The problem is that there are fewer and fewer fish to meet an ever-increasing demand. The solution is simply to take less so that we can continue eating fish for a longer time.

Opponents of conservation, however, argue that regulating fishing will destroy jobs and hurt the economy - but they are wrong, and there are real-world examples that prove this. A scientific study published today by the Public Library of Science shows that protecting an area brings the fish back, and creates jobs and increases economic revenue for the local communities. I have seen it with my own eyes and, believe me, it is like a miracle, only that it is not - it’s just common business sense.

Cabo Pulmo National Park in Baja California, Mexico, was protected in 1995 to safeguard the largest coral community in the Gulf of California. When I dove there for the first time in 1999, I thought the corals were very nice, but there were not so many fishes, and I didn’t think the place was extraordinary. Together with Octavio Aburto and other Mexican colleagues we dove at many sites in the gulf, in a region spanning over 1,000 km. Cabo Pulmo was just like most other places I’d seen in the Gulf of California.

But the Cabo Pulmo villagers wanted more. They decided that the waters in front of their settlement were going to be a no-take marine reserve -– fishing was banned with the hopes of bringing the fish back. They had a vision, and they succeeded in a way that exceeded all expectations, including mine.

In 2009 we went back to Cabo Pulmo to monitor the fish populations. We jumped in the water, expecting fishes to be more abundant after 10 years of protection. But we could not believe what we saw - thousands upon thousands of large fishes such as snappers, groupers, trevally, and manta rays. They were so abundant that we could not see each other if we were fifteen meters apart. We saw more sharks in one dive at Cabo Pulmo than in 10 years of diving throughout the Gulf of California!

Our research indicated that the fish biomass increased by 460% at Cabo Pulmo - to a level similar to remote pristine coral reefs that have never been fished. In contrast, all other sites in the Gulf of California that we revisited in 2009 were as degraded as ten years earlier. This shows that it is possible to bring back the former richness of the ocean that man has obliterated, but that without our dedication, the degradation will continue.

Most importantly for the people of Cabo Pulmo, since their reef is now the only healthy reef left in the Gulf of California, it has attracted divers, which bring economic revenue. And fishermen around the marine reserve are catching more fish than before thanks to the spillover of fish from the no-take marine reserve. It seems like a win-win to me!

The question is: how can we have more of these?

Hidden Baja Undersea Park is the World's Most Robust Marine Reserve
Gulf of California's Cabo Pulmo, protected by locals, rebounds as a biological 'hot spot' flourishing with marine life.

A thriving undersea wildlife park tucked away near the southern tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula has proven to be the world's most robust marine reserve in the world, according to a new study led by researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.

Results of a 10-year analysis of Cabo Pulmo National Park (CPNP), published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) ONE journal, revealed that the total amount of fish in the reserve ecosystem (the "biomass") boomed more than 460 percent from 1999 to 2009. Citizens living around Cabo Pulmo, previously depleted by fishing, established the park in 1995 and have strictly enforced its "no take" restrictions.

"We could have never dreamt of such an extraordinary recovery of marine life at Cabo Pulmo," said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala, who started the study in 1999. "In 1999 there were only medium-sized fishes, but ten years later it's full of large parrotfish, groupers, snappers and even sharks."

The most striking result of the paper, the authors say, is that fish communities at a depleted site can recover up to a level comparable to remote, pristine sites that have never been fished by humans.

"The study's results are surprising in several ways," said Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher, World Wildlife Fund Kathryn Fuller fellow and lead author of the study. "A biomass increase of 463 percent in a reserve as large as Cabo Pulmo (71 square kilometers) represents tons of new fish produced every year. No other marine reserve in the world has shown such a fish recovery."

The paper notes that factors such as the protection of spawning areas for large predators have been key to the reserve's robustness. Most importantly, local enforcement, led by the determined action of a few families, has been a major factor in the park's success. Boat captains, dive masters and other locals work to enforce the park's regulations and share surveillance, fauna protection and ocean cleanliness efforts.

"We believe that the success of CPNP is greatly due to local leadership, effective self-enforcement by local stakeholders, and the general support of the broader community," the authors note in their report.

Strictly enforced marine reserves have been proven to help reduce local poverty and increase economic benefits, the researchers say. Cabo Pulmo's marine life recovery has spawned eco-tourism businesses, including coral reef diving and kayaking, making it a model for areas depleted by fishing in the Gulf of California and elsewhere.

"The reefs are full of hard corals and sea fans, creating an amazing habitat for lobsters, octopuses, rays and small fish," said Brad Erisman, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the article. "During some seasons thousands of mobula rays congregate inside the park and swim above the reef in a magnificent way."

The scientists have been combining efforts to monitor the Gulf of California's rocky reefs every year for more than a decade, sampling more than 30 islands and peninsula locations along Baja California, stretching from Puerto Refugio on the northern tip of Angel de la Guarda to Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo south of the Bahia de La Paz.

In the ten years studied, the researchers found that Cabo Pulmo's fish species richness blossomed into a biodiversity "hot spot." Animals such as tiger sharks, bull sharks and black tip reef sharks increased significantly. Scientists continue to find evidence that such top predators keep coral reefs healthy. Other large fish at Cabo Pulmo include gulf groupers, dog snappers and leopard groupers.

"I participated, back in the 1990s, in the studies for the declaration of the marine park. Frankly, we decided to go ahead because the community was so determined but the place at that time was not in good environmental health," said Exequiel Ezcurra, Director of the University of California Institute for Mexico and the United States (UC MEXUS) and co-author of the article. "If you visit the place now, you cannot believe the change that has taken place. And all of it has occurred thanks to the determination of a community of coastal villagers that decided to take care of their place and to be at the helm of their own destiny."

"Few policymakers around the world are aware that fish size and abundance can increase inside marine reserves to extraordinary levels within a decade after protection is established; fewer still know that these increases often translate into economic benefits for coastal communities" said Aburto-Oropeza. "Therefore, showing what's happened in Cabo Pulmo will contribute to ongoing conservation efforts in the marine environment and recovery of local coastal economies."

In addition to Aburto-Oropeza, co-authors include Brad Erisman and Grantly Galland of Scripps Oceanography; Ismael Mascareñas-Osorio of Centro para la Biodiversidad Marina y la Conservación in La Paz, Mexico; Enric Sala of the National Geographic Society and Centre d'Estudis Avançats de Blanes in Spain; and Exequiel Ezcurra of UC-MEXUS at UC Riverside.

The research was funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, International Community Foundation, Moore Family Foundation, Pew Fellowship Program on Marine Conservation, Robins Family Foundation, The Tinker Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation.

Little Mexican reserve boasts big recovery: Marine protected area sees fish increase fourfold, sharks tenfold, in a decade.
At conferences, Grant Galland calls the marine protected area he works on in Cabo Pulmo in Mexico the "best in the world". "I do it in part to see if anyone challenges me or shows me one that has been more successful," says Galland, a marine ecologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California. So far, he says, no one has.

Cabo Pulmo National Park covers just 71 square kilometres - a little bigger than Manhattan - at the southern end of the Baja California Peninsula. In PLoS One this week1, a team including Galland reports that fish biomass in the marine protected area (MPA) increased more than fourfold between 1999 and 2009. Fish biomass elsewhere in Mexico, including in other marine protected areas with weaker enforcement, didn't improve at all over the same period.

The area owes its success, says Galland, to the efforts of one local family that campaigned for the reserve's creation in 1995 and is devoted to policing it. The family used to be fishers, but decided it would be better to preserve their ecosystem and make a living from tourism, says Galland.

They now watch for boats and head out to deter them from fishing. "They're like vigilantes," says Galland. Although just 35% of the park is designated as 'no take', the local population of about 100 villagers follow a no-fishing policy for the entire reserve, says study leader Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, also of Scripps.

Five locally owned tourism businesses in Cabo Pulmo pull in enough money to earn their 30 employees an average of US$18,000 per year, compared with the Mexican average of around $15,000. "If you can make more money doing tourism, that unlocks the real benefit of an MPA. You genuinely have a win-win situation on your hand," says Peter Jones, a marine biologist turned human geographer at University College London, UK, who studies how to make effective marine reserves.

Aburto-Oropeza's team found an average 463% increase in the number of fish in Cabo Pulmo. Top predators such as sharks fared best: their biomass went up more than tenfold, perhaps because they are drawn to the area by all the fish, or perhaps because the reserve is a good breeding ground.

The percentage recovery isn't unprecedented - one recent study found an average of 446% in 55 MPAs. But the density of fish living on the park's reef, at 4 tonnes per hectare, is the best the authors have seen anywhere on record. The recovery at Cabo Pulmo seems to be "exceptionally good" - agrees Peter Sale, Assistant Director of the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, who is based in Port Carling, Ontario, Canada.

The divers also noticed Cabo Pulmo fish doing strange things. On most Mexican reefs, a scale-eating blenny (Plagiotremus azaleus) sneaks up on its prey by hiding amid schools of hundreds of similar-looking but harmless Cortez Rainbow Wrasse (Thalassoma lucasanum). But Cabo Pulmo's blennies hunt in packs of several hundred. "They terrorize the other fish," says Galland. This behaviour has not been seen anywhere else. Such changes highlight the possibility that a reserve may not return to its pristine state. "We don't know if it's returning to normal or turning into something else," says Galland.

The recovery shows that even small reserves can allow fish populations in the Gulf of California to recover, say the authors. But they add that the area is under threat from the development of a resort aiming to house thousands of tourists and a marina just a few kilometres to the north. Galland and others are now working to compile environmental data, such as the direction of prevailing ocean currents, in an effort to quantify the probable impact of the resort and petition against its development.

Marine Reserve Shows Fishery Recovery, Big Fish Return to Mexican Marine Park [VIDEO & PHOTOS]
The fish population in an undersea wildlife park near Mexico's southern tip rebounded by more than 460 percent over 10 years since being designated as a marine wildlife reserve, researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, said.

Cabo Pulmo National Park, or CPNP, was once depleted by fishing, but in 1995, citizens living around the area enforced "no take" restrictions that have resulted in the park's thriving.

The 71-square-kilometers undersea park, which is tucked away near the southern tip of Mexico's Baja peninsula, is now the world's most robust marine reserve in the world. This is an indication that depleted fisheries can recover up to a level that is comparable to remote, pristine sites untouched by fishing. "We could have never dreamt of such an extraordinary recovery of marine life at Cabo Pulmo," said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala in a statement.

Sala started the study in 1999.

"In 1999 there were only medium-sized fishes, but 10 years later, it's full of large parrotfish, groupers, snappers and even sharks," he said. Researchers say no other reserve in the world has shown such a recovery.

Protection of spawning areas for large predators has been the key to the reserve's robustness. But most importantly, local enforcement, led by determined families, has been a major factor in the park's success, the researchers noted. Boat captains, dive masters and other locals work to enforce the park's regulations and share surveillance, fauna protection and ocean cleanliness efforts, researchers found.

A press release noted that the scientists have been combining efforts to monitor the Gulf of California's rocky reefs every year for more than 10 year. They have sampled more than 30 islands and peninsula locations along Baja California, stretching from Puerto Refugio on the northern tip of Angel de la Guarda to Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo south of the Bahia de La Paz.

"Few policymakers around the world are aware that fish size and abundance can increase inside marine reserves to extraordinary levels within a decade after protection is established; fewer still know that these increases often translate into economic benefits for coastal communities" said Octavio Aburto-Oropeza, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and lead author of the study. "Therefore, showing what's happened in Cabo Pulmo will contribute to ongoing conservation efforts in the marine environment and recovery of local coastal economies."

In the 10 years they found that Cabo Pulmo's fish species richness blossomed into a biodiversity hot spot. Animals such as tiger sharks, bull sharks and black tip reef sharks have increased. Other large fish at the marine park include gulf groupers, dog snappers and leopard groupers.

"We believe that the success of CPNP is greatly due to local leadership, effective self-enforcement by local stakeholders, and the general support of the broader community," the authors noted in their report.

Brad Erisman, a Scripps postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the article, said the reefs are full of hard corals and sea fans, which is creating a good habitat for lobsters, octopuses, rays and small fish. "During some seasons thousands of mobula rays congregate inside the park and swim above the reef in a magnificent way," he said in a statement.

Big fish return to Mexican marine park - most effects of overharvesting reversed within a decade

Within 14 years of a national marine park in Mexico’s Gulf of California closing its borders to fishing, the total mass of its denizens more than quintupled, a new study finds. Over the same period, the share of top predators — sentinels of a healthy ecosystem — also soared. Both trends countered those for fish in unprotected regions of the Gulf.

"People who object to marine protected areas, especially to strong protection like here, often say there is no proof that they work," says Elliott Norse of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute in Bellevue, Wash., who was not involved in the new study. "Well, this is the proof."

The 71-square-kilometer Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park sits close to where the Gulf opens into the Pacific. Its coral reef makes it a tourist destination for diving and snorkeling. Since 1995, 35 percent of the park’s waters have been off limits to fishing, but local communities informally extended the no-take zone to the rest of the park, says Octavio Aburto-Oropeza of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif. He and his colleagues surveyed the reef’s fish populations in 1999 and again in 2009. They report the results of those surveys August 12 in PLoS ONE.

Fishers typically first target meaty predators such as giant groupers and snappers. Absent in 1999, such big fish - some a meter or more long - again inhabit Cabo Pulmo, Aburto-Oropeza says. He even witnessed Pacific tunas visiting to dine on the park’s reef fish.

Sharks remain notable for their virtual absence. Owing to heavy exploitation for the fin trade and slow rates of reproduction, this family of predators remains rare inside Cabo Pulmo and out, Aburto-Oropeza says.

Norse says there’s no reason to believe that the new study’s findings should prove unique to the Gulf of California. "I suspect that what they found would occur anywhere people who fish exercise the admirable restraint that the people have at Cabo Pulmo."
(unquote)

Images courtesy of Octavio Aburto / iLCP

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