Marine Reserves paradise won or lost? by Dr Floor Anthoni (2007) www.seafriends.org.nz/indepth/reserves.htm
Compared to the land, the sea is a place very much left
alone, apart from fishing and a few other impacts. We don't live in the
sea, plough its soil, burn its forest, build houses, cities and roads there,
nor do we let introduced pests roam free. So if only we stopped fishing,
the sea would return to something close to a paradise. This concept of
marine conservation by means of total protection, no-take marine reserves,
would have worked splendidly if only the situation were ideal. Unfortunately
a new threat, that of degradation, has loomed very large. Let's examine
the marine reserve concept in depth to learn more about marine protection
and why it fails.
The marine reserve concept stems from the early days of marine science,
when scientists needed selected areas in the sea to do marine research.
Such places were necessary because were people to catch fish, shellfish
and lobsters, they would almost certainly upset any scientific studies
of these marine creatures. But exploitation could interfere in other ways
too, like upsetting the balance of the environment.
In the early 1960s, New Zealand had only two marine laboratories,
the oldest at Dunedin (Portobello Marine Laboratory) and the marine laboratory
at Leigh. Later, Wellington would get its own (at Island Bay) and to some
degree Christchurch too. The idea of marine conservation was pushed strongly
from the Leigh Marine Laboratory of the University of Auckland, which resulted
in the Marine Reserves Act of 1971 (MRA
1971), rather than an amendment to the existing Fisheries Act. The
first marine reserve at Goat Island, adjacent to the Leigh Marine Laboratory,
was gazetted in 1975. The MRA was amended in 1977 and 1996 (MRA
1996). In 2002 an attempt was made to make it more general while applying
to the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with a focus on biodiversity
rather than research (the marine
reserves bill 2002, now in limbo). This attempt failed because it was
so poorly done and it did not address the problems while also massively
duplicating existing legislation. Today it has become clear that it would
have been much better to abolish the Marine Reserves Act altogether, and
to accommodate all marine protection under the Fisheries Act. The problem
of the MRA and the proposed Bill is that it provides only for complete
no-take protection, ignoring all other forms of protection. The Fisheries
Act on the other hand, provides for all kinds of marine protection, including
full no-take protection forever (marine reserves), and it involves
the stakeholders, the fishermen. Remember that marine reserves are all
about fishing - no fishing.
The marine reserve concept grew steadily from necessary protection for
doing marine research, to that of saving the sea, and it went even much
further than that, to protecting biodiversity and other fantasies about
their possible but unproved benefits. One does not need to be very smart
to understand, that if the main threat to the sea comes from fishing, and
one stops fishing, there will be a change to a more natural state. Fish
can grow older and bigger and they become more numerous as well. So if
the sea were fished down to 50% of the original fish stock, then a ban
on fishing should result in a 100% increase in numbers, and gradually also
in the number of old and big fish. But how does that work?
Fishermen keep fishing the sea and for every fish taken, miraculously
a replacement appears. How? Apparently fish move around, and they reproduce
as well. When mature snapper spawn, the females produce millions of eggs
each. Although most are eaten or just vanish, the numbers of young snappers
(called recruits) can be very high. After 4-5 years they too begin to reproduce
and enter the catchable size class. Then they can get caught. What then
makes fish stay inside marine reserves?
The answer is that they don't, at least most fish don't. We never told
them where the marine reserves are, and where their boundaries are. At
this point we must become aware that the sea has three main habitats:
the open sea, which is very large, extending from close to the shore
out all the way to the middle of the oceans; from rich waters to poor waters,
from the surface to the deepest trench. Pelagic fish prefer to live near
the surface because the light makes the plant plankton grow, which feeds
the food chain. But because of this, these fish do not know where they
are, as sea currents move them from place to place, for many kilometres
each day; in and out of marine reserves.
the 'soft' sandy and muddy sea bottom which extends from the shore
all the way out over the continental shelves, down to 200m depth and then
rapidly deeper along the continental slope, beyond the limits of light,
into the permanently dark deep sea. The fish who live here do not drift
on the currents, but because of the monotony (everywhere the same) of this
habitat, have no fixed abode, as they fossick around over the bottom. They
migrate a few hundred metres a day, in and out of marine reserves.
the hard rocky shore, of which there is very little, extending from
the coast down some 5-20m and from outer islands further. This hard shore
offers attachment for seaweeds and other sessile organisms. The fish who
live here, are more likely to stay in one place, particularly who have
a territory or a sleeping spot on the rock face. Because these animals
do not have the urge to move around, they are protected by a marine reserve
if they just happen to be inside one. Once they stray outside, they can
be caught. But because their numbers are small, they are of little commercial
interest (except some shellfish and lobsters whose numbers and value are
Most fish are found in the largest two of the three habitats, and all our
commercial fish species are found here. The species of the rocky shore
are too few in numbers, and are therefore not of commercial importance.
So the sad news is that marine reserves do not protect the species that
need protection most of all. Marine reserves do not protect commercial
fish species. What these fish need is a form of protection that moves along
with them, like fisheries regulations. So what do marine reserves protect?
Fixed protected areas along the coast protect a large number of species,
but alas, these do not need protection because they are not being threatened
by fishing. But there are some exceptions. Shellfish such as scallop and
abalone (paua) do not move around much, and they are eagerly fished. So
these species enjoy the protection from marine reserves. The question remains:
are they threatened? Obviously, where a fishery thrives, there is no overwhelming
threat, because limited predation is natural. Paua are often protected
by wild coasts where diving is impossible for most of the year. So do they
need more protection than that?
It follows that marine reserves are very
ineffective at protecting the commercially fished species. Marine reserves have very little direct
f006512: crayfish live mainly on the rocky shore, protected
inside cracks and small caves. Divers like the challenge of catching these
'bugs' and they can be very good at this, resulting in low numbers of crayfish
remaining. This can clearly spoil marine research and the enjoyment of
those who enjoy the natural environment.
f026711: paua (abalone) sit like low hanging fruit on the
rock, and are so easy to catch. The animals shown here are between 5 and
10 years old, and there are no small ones in sight. Taking the three shown
here, may leave this spot devoid of paua for many years.
a pristine environment
Often the sea is compared to the land, and because we have 10-30% of the
land protected, therefore we should protect a similar area in the sea.
This sounds reasonable, but is in fact entirely misleading. The sea is
a different place, so strange in fact that we cannot possibly imagine it.
But the following differences are easy to grasp:
there are many lands but only one sea: the land is enormously divided
by seas, rivers, mountain ranges and deserts. It has urged evolution to
high biodiversity. For this very reason, the threat from habitat change
and introduced species is insurmountable. Likewise it is relatively
easy to protect an island, isolated by surrounding waters, which 'imprisons'
its inhabitants. On the other hand, there exists only one ocean, as all
salt waters are interconnected. Declaring a certain area as protected,
does not keep the threatened species inside nor predators and disease outside.
the sea is still relatively pristine: we do not live in the sea,
do not farm and plough the sea bottom, do not deforest it, build cities
and roads there, while rats goats, stoats, cats, possums and other pests
have no effect there either. So the sea is still very much more pristine
than the land and for that reason does not need protection as much as the
land does. It already is in a much better state than our parks on land.
our national parks are not like the sea: our land reserves are the
left-over bits that nobody wanted. They are too steep, too far away, too
wet, too dry, too cold, too hot to be of use. They are our bad-lands, but
the sea is accessible and productive everywhere.
our land reserves are still threatened: apart from some islands
where pests like rats have been removed, our land reserves are still threatened
by rats, cats, stoats, goats, deer, pigs and possums. Add to that the pest
from wasps and other insects, and our wildlife is still threatened. Constant
culling, hunting and trapping of introduced species is necessary inside
our land reserves. This is not the case with the sea.
The good news is that a marine reserve could promote a relatively
pristine area to that of a paradise. Stop the only remaining threat (fishing)
and a marine reserve will begin to look the way the sea was before New
Zealand was first discovered - a paradise. If this is really the case,
we should have a network of paradises.
the spiritual dimension
Marine reserves can't work just because there is a law and because we have
drawn some lines on marine charts. They can work only if:
there is a law for all: marine reserves cannot work if some people
are excluded but not others. One law for all. This causes some concern
for scientists, because in the course of their studies, they often have
to kill living organisms, which is against the law, even though marine
reserves are for the express purpose of marine studies.
we must have been told: a protected area must have been announced
widely, far in advance of becoming fact. It must be included on marine
charts. There must be many signs on boating ramps, access ways to the marine
reserve and so on.
we must understand the concept: people must understand why an area
is fully or partially protected, and what we are allowed to do or not to
do. Only then can we lend our support.
we must believe: before we change our ways to meet the restrictions
imposed on us, we must believe that they are fair and just and that they
will work. We must believe in the projected benefits for either ourselves
or for our children. This is a very important part of the spiritual dimension
of marine reserves, particularly when doubt exists as to a reserve's effectiveness.
Today there exists much doubt about a marine reserve's effectiveness, whether
it is the best solution for our children, considering their sacrifice of
freedom, and whether those who sacrifice today are fairly recompensed.
It would be fair to say that marine reserves and those advocating for more
(like the Department of Conservation and green organisations) have failed
in this respect.
we must act: finally we must change our behaviour for a reserve
to become effective, because a single person can undo what many have worked
hard for. It takes a single fisherman to catch all the big tame snappers
from a beloved spot. A single spearfisher can destroy the trust between
fish and visitors.
How to behave in order
not to scare the fish Consider these elements of behaviour which may take years
patience: fish do not live in the hustle of a 21st
century city. Their time has essentially stood still but even so they are
busy with their own needs. It is up to you to adapt and ease up and be
patient, even though you cannot match theirs ever. Take time. Sit still.
Move slowly. Read the signs. We know that your dive time is limited and
that time is money, but this does not weigh underwater. You want co-operative
subjects, don't you?
stress signals: recognise typical signals of distress:
erect fins, especially the dorsal fins are a clear
skittishness, sudden deviations from course, overreacting
to your movements
to and fro movement as if uncertain whether to flee
or to stay
turning their backs to you, ready to flee.
split schools where one half wants something different
from the other
size and posturing: you are a big animal and in the
fish world, anything bigger than oneself is a danger. So you are by their
experience, a very dangerous animal. You can reduce this perception by
reducing your size, turning your front towards them (your back works better
though), hiding partly behind a stone or plant and not showing your full
size. Your bubbles are also part of your size as they ascend to the surface.
Thus your size increases with depth.
don't use your arms: swimmers instinctively use their
arms for swimming and divers also for balancing themselves. But fish are
extremely nervous about our arms because these are able to attack sideways,
whereas no fish can do that. Use your hands to hold onto a stabilising
point and move them only slowly forward/backward and rarely sideward.
your most powerful move forward is retreat
- Floor Anthoni (2005)
f020931: spearfishing is a challenging and strenuous sport,
practised by freedivers. It takes skill, strength and tenacity to stalk
and spear fish, but done inside a protected area, it can cause much harm
by scaring the fish. Responsible spearfishermen hunt for pelagic fish like
trevally and kingfish, that are only fleeting visitors to marine reserves.
f016219: a speared blue moki has escaped the kill because
the spear tore loose. Amazingly, such damaged fish can often survive huge
wounds as shown here. However, the chance of dying from infection remains
high. This blue moki will most certainly remember the incident and pass
its fear behaviour on to other fish.
f022615: a diver quietly takes her time to befriend a group
of resting goatfish. Eventually she will be allowed to touch one. Because
most people do not exercise such caution, the fish inside marine reserves
are not as trusting as one may expect. This photo was taken near Leigh,
outside a marine reserve.
f050136: a snorkeldiver has taken time (2 days) to establish
a trusting relationship with a large male Sandagers wrasse, eventually
caressing and hand-holding it. Imagine for a moment how much mutual trust
this requires. Again, this was possible only outside a marine reserve,
at the Cavalli Islands.
The latest thinking about the benefits from marine reserves, is that they
are necessary to protect marine biodiversity. It is said that only
complete no-take protection can save biodiversity because biodiversity
is not just about species but also about their interactions that form habitats.
This may sound logical, but is in fact utter rubbish. On the Seafriends
web site you will find the many fallacies in this argument extensively
rebutted, but here are the main arguments.
the sea is a weird place: it cannot be stressed enough that the
sea is seldom working 'as expected', and people's main mistake is that
they assume that the natural laws for the land also apply to the sea; that
our logic is therefore right. But the reality is that the sea is weirder
than we can possibly imagine, and its physics, chemistry, physiology, biology
and ecology full of 'unsuspected' surprises. In other words, if you haven't
tested and measured your idea, it is probably wrong. Remember this as an
exciting mystery of the sea. This problem is made worse by the fact that
most advocates for marine reserves do not dive; even most marine scientists
do not dive frequently. Thus hands-on knowledge is scarce and everyone
relies on everyone else for knowledge and information, not unlike a 'gossip
the sea is still pristine: the sea is still very much more pristine
than the land, as explained before. Species are not threatened by exploitation
as much as we fear. Exploitation in the fish-eat-fish world is daily fare.
Unexploited populations do not exist. Exploitation does not threaten biodiversity
by as much as we fear. No scientific experiment has ever shown that it
the sea is very connected: unlike the land which is highly compartmentalised,
the sea is a continuous extent in all directions. If a community is threatened
somewhere, its species are found thriving somewhere else. Eggs are spread
by ocean currents everywhere.
habitats are not mutually exclusive: there exists great confusion
about what a habitat is. As explained above, there are only three basic
marine habitats: the open sea, the flat bottom and the rocky substrate.
Within these main categories there are graduations going from the tropics
to the poles, and combinations like boulder 'beaches'. What we observe
is a great number of communities that we mistake for unique habitats, but
the species found in one, are also found in another. So the idea of having
to protect each and every 'habitat' (community) is false. Likewise the
idea that this is the only way of protecting biodiversity, is false.
nature adapts: it is thought that when species change due to exploitation,
for instance maturing earlier and staying small, in order to be able to
slip through nets, that this amounts to a loss in biodiversity. It is not.
It is simply how nature adapts with their in-built genetics. Nature adapts
to mankind, as much as mankind in its early history adapted to nature.
degradation: the main threat to the sea now comes from degradation
caused by runoff from the land. It affects all species from plankton and
seaweeds to whales and dolphins. It causes fisheries to collapse, however
'well managed' they are. Closed areas in the sea (marine reserves) do nothing
for this new threat as the quantity and quality of life is diminishing
everywhere. Degradation is the main threat to biodiversity. See further
The main threat to the sea now comes from marine degradation, caused by
runoff from the land. It is also called eutrophication (overnourishment),
or 'too much of a good thing'. How can that possibly be a problem? In this
area Seafriends has made major contributions to science by recognising
this new threat early on (1987) and by studying it ever since, resulting
in a number of challenging theories (hypotheses) that all fit together
to a consistent new view of the sea: the sea does not work the way we
thought. Study the large chapter on marine
degradation and what it looks like (decay),
and the revolutionary discoveries made with a new plankton tool, the Dark
Decay Assay (DDA). But here are its main points.
Our seas as those everywhere in the world have been degrading for many
years, even though here in New Zealand it has become very obvious only
in the past two decades. 'Sick seas' is a very serious condition that affects
all species, yet scientists have not made any attempt at studying it here.
f048705: a rich wall with many colourful species and a red
pigfish. The fans are gorgonians and the colourful patches on the rock
face are carpet sponges. The colourful bushes are bryozoans. Degradation
at the Poor Knights islands is just commencing.
f035907: a very degraded habitat in what was once a clear
harbour, Port Fitzroy, on Great Barrier Island. In the photo are two species
of sponge, both introduced species, and one species of seaweed, the flexible
weed. This sad picture represents the sick seas syndrome. This is what
we have done to the sea.
shown here shows that degradation is usually accompanied by the water becoming
dirtier or murkier as divers say, "the underwater visibility becomes less".
With it, the quantity and quality of life diminishes. On left in clear
water, one finds seaweeds to a depth of 20-30m, below which the quality
of the light is insufficient for seaweeds. With less competition for space,
the filterfeeding sponges now populate the vacant rock. In New Zealand,
divers can meet an astounding variety of sponges, a good sign of health.
But as the environment degrades and the water turns from blue to green
and from green to brown, less and less light penetrates, and the lower
seaweed boundary moves up. Although planktonic food becomes richer (so
we think), the sponges who depend on it, disappear. It makes degradation
difficult to understand - more food, less life. What is going on?
shows the main food chain in the sea as if it were a wedding cake. At the
bottom is the phytoplankton which creates plant life from sunlight and
nutrients. Directly above it the tier of zooplankton that 'grazes' the
plant plankton. Above that the fish larvae that feed on the zoo plankton,
and above that the bait fish and finally the table fish that fishermen
love to catch. Of course all these species swim in random order through
the thin soup of plankton. In order to feed each tier above, the tier below
must be bigger, by about 6-10 times. Multiply this out five times, and
it becomes clear that over a tonne (1000kg) of phytoplankton is needed
to grow one kilogram of table fish.
What we discovered is that scientists all the world over, have not
taken serious the planktonic decomposers who recirculate the dead bodies
from the plankton. So plankton is not just a thin soup, it is also thin
sewage where infections can spread like wildfire. Each sea organism thus
lives in a precarious balance (the plankton
balance) between the good life (thick soup) and a long life (thin sewage),
which are in conflict with one another.
The diagram further shows that fishing takes a small bite from the top
of the ecosystem, whereas degradation takes a large bite from the bottom,
and is therefore much more damaging - to all species, fished and unfished.
Marine reserves (=no fishing) aim to restore the bite from the top but
can do nothing to the large bite from the bottom. At the same time fishermen
who see fish becoming scarce, think this is caused by overfishing, whereas
it is caused by a smaller cake. It now becomes clear why fisheries management
can no longer be effective either.
One would think that observing the increased fish populations inside marine
reserves (called monitoring), would settle the score once and for all,
for shouldn't we rely only on what was measured? Unfortunately, many 'success'
stories do the rounds, that do not stand up to scrutiny. Read for instance
of our large section debunking
and fallacies in the marine reserves debate. One would have assumed
that scientists would have been more careful.
most protected by marine reserves are those which are heavily fished commercially,
but that do not migrate large distances. Examples of those are shellfish
beds like scallops, and crayfish. The diagram shows how the crayfish population
at the Goat Island marine reserve increased rapidly to a maximum level
in only five years, but suddenly collapsed in 1998. We observed that the
collapse happened suddenly after heavy rains and mud storms in winter,
that we think, were related to the widening of Goat Island Road. There
were major earth works that were not stabilised and poorlly supervised.
The crayfish just walked out, and they were caught outside the marine reserve.
The fishermen said that the reserve was finally working "because fish finally
spilled out", as promised by marine reserves advocates. Notice that the
disappearance of five out of six crayfish was not noticed by two scientific
groups working with crayfish at the time, even after we warned those scientists,
first in December 1998, and later in March 1999 after we completed our
own census. The collapse was noticed only during the official lobster-census
Note also that since 1992, the Goat Island marine reserve has suffered
other severe symptoms of degradation, such as the complete kelpbed death
of 92/93 and the urchin kill afterwards. But both are never mentioned in
scientific publications as also the public is left in the dark.
One of our
mistakes is to assume that our seas have the same problems as tropical
seas but there is no comparison. So we must rely entirely on measurements
done here inside and outside our own marine reserves. These results are
conflicting as well as disappointing. Let's look at the snapper situation
around the Poor Knights Islands, dealt with in more detail in myths7.
In December 1998 the Poor Knights were closed to all forms of fishing,
whereas previously one was allowed to fish with unweighted lines in the
semi-protected parts of the reserve. Immediately the numbers of snappers
began to increase (green curves), but this also happened outside the Poor
Knights, at Mokohinau Islands (blue curve) and Cape Brett (purple), neither
of which were marine reserves. As it happened, 1998 was an excellent recruitment
year for snapper everywhere. Surely the Poor Knights had more snapper,
but the relative increase was similar to the unprotected areas. Can we
say from this graph how much was due to protection? Probably not. Of course,
in time, the snappers outside the reserve will be caught, so we'll wait
The situation becomes more confusing with the second diagram where
divers counted snapper visually, as they did for all other species. As
you can see, there is a huge difference between the two methods. Why would
scientists use a different method and fail to publish the visual census,
which we obtained using the Official Information Act? We have always been
suspicious of the BUV (Baited Underwater Video), as documented in Frequently
Of all the fish species, snapper (Pagrus auratus) are least understood,
possibly because they do not just migrate randomly and because as scavengers,
benefit from the deaths of others. Although most migrate, some set up shop
on the reef where they claim a large private space in open water. When
they migrate seasonally, they appear to have an aim, that of finding warm
water for spawning. Note how their numbers fluctuate wildly from summer
(january) to winter (july).
The nature of oasis reserves keeps snappers within, for much
the same reasons that oases in the desert (spots where water surfaces)
encourages plants and animals to stay. In the sea an oasis is a rocky outcrop
surrounded by sand or a sandy spot surrounded by rock. In the first the
rock-loving species are 'imprisoned', in the latter the sand-loving ones.
It is important to recognise that oases are rare and therefore not normal.
Yet scientists do not take care in distinguishing such. For instance, Goat
Island marine reserve is unique because of its island, and its location
at the end of a 25km long beach (Pakiri Beach), providing the first refuge
of shelter and the first rocky habitat. It furthermore has currents exiting
and entering the Hauraki Gulf. So it is a perfect stop-over for migrating
fish like snapper. What is certain, is that Goat Island is in no way representative
of the normal situation. Yet wild claims are made by scientists who should
observing and monitoring snapper, it would be better to monitor the other
species, as shown on this diagram. Surprisingly, all the fish that are
permanent inhabitants of the Poor Knights, have declined spectacularly.
Not shown is how they were already in stark decline before 1998. On the
vertical scale, the diagram counts the number of fish in an area about
the size of a tennis court (125m2). Horizontally the year. Notice how the
red pigfish (Bodianus unimaculatus, orange line) declined by 50%
and the butterfish, a plant eater (Odax pullus, brown line) by 90%.
For all these fish, their fate looks grim, except for the coastal sweep
(Scorpis lineolatus, light blue line, scale x 10) which rose from
insignificance to prominence. Note that this was not mentioned in the report
to DoC, and we had to tease it out of the data!
So what does all this mean? That marine reserves cause fish to disappear?
These curves look like a fisheries collapse inside a marine reserve
no fishing occurs. What is going on?
This is what degradation looks like, the new threat. Marine reserves no
longer work in the presence of degradation. They cannot protect biodiversity
because they lose both quality and quantity of life. Fisheries regulations
can no longer work either. So why do we want more failed reserves, and
networks of failed reserves? Why do we want to rob our children of their
freedoms, for nothing in return? It doesn't make sense. Furthermore, we
gratulate ourselves for having done something, while closing our eyes to
the real causes of decline.
Marine reserves are like feel-good
plasters on a dying patient, not fixing the main problem - Floor
and honest answers The chronic decline of temperate reef fish at the Poor
Knights, while fully protected, raises some important questions that demand
Do marine reserves protect biodiversity when they lose both
quantity and quality of life as the curves show? [no]
Do marine reserves save the sea in the face of rampant degradation?
If this fish decline is happening in our very best marine
reserve, what would the situation be with our other marine reserves? [far
If this fish decline is happening at the edge of the continental
shelf where the water is of much better quality, what would the situation
be at the mainland coast? [far worse]
If these curves were related to fishing, would it be called
a fisheries collapse? [yes]
If fish stocks collapse without actually being fished, would
fisheries regulations help? [no]
how science works In the example, scientists did a before-and-after
controlled experiment: measure the situation before, apply protection,
and measure the situation afterwards. If there is a change, it must have
been caused by protection, thus marine protection causes more fish (snapper).
However, this is bad science and has unfortunately been common to most
marine reserves science [1,2,3]. For good science, the scientist must also
prove that nothing else could have caused the effect (more snapper, less
others). As you can see, looking at the situation in nearby unprotected
areas (Cape Brett and Mokohinau Is) came as an afterthought, as for these
control areas, the before measurements are missing .
As it turned out, the chronic decline of temperate fish,
was an unwelcome result, as it 'proved' (by the same logic) that marine
reserves cause less of most species, except heavily fished ones. So why
was it not mentioned in the report  and we had to tease it out of the
published data? Does this mean that scientists are selective in their reporting
and by doing so, dishonest? Apparently, but why? Notice that in this respect
the research was funded by a politically motivated organisation, the Department
of Conservation, and like researchers doing research for tobacco companies,
they do not want to bite the hand that feeds. Are scientists corruptable?
What did other scientists have to say? Well, they stayed mum and no criticism
has arisen whatsoever of any flawed marine research done here in NZ, as
exposed by Seafriends. What then does this mean? The message to the layperson
is loud and clear: can we trust science/scientists at all? Scientific
criticism is dead and peer-review does not work. Fortunately Seafriends
tries to keep them honest. Think about it: would you ever have known the
truth had it not been published here? Who then, must you support?
 MPA perspective: the science of marine reserves
- how much of it is science? By Trevor Willis, Russell Millar, Russ
Babcock & Nick Tolimieri (2003) which has been dissected by us in myths6.
 Burdens of
evidence and the benefits of marine reserves: putting Descartes before
des horse? (PDF) Environmental Conservation 30:97-103. Dissected
 The New Zealand Marine Reserve Experience: the
science behind the politics Russ Babcock (2003). In myths7.
 Effects of Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve
on demersal fish populationsDOC
SCIENCE INTERNAL SERIES 142 (PDF) Christopher M. Denny, Trevor J. Willis,
and Russell C. Babcock. No mention is made of the
chronic decline of reef fish.
 Denny CM, Willis TJ & Babcock RC (2004) Rapid
recolonisation of snapper Pagrus auratus: Sparidae within an offshore island
marine reserve after implementation of no-take status. Marine Ecology
Progress Series 272: 183–190. These scientists all
too soon concluded that an increase in snapper populations was caused by
protection, thereby making an ass of science.
the doctor's dilemma One often hears arguments like "every little bit helps"
and "at least let's do something" or "doing something is better than doing
nothing", which has led to most green organisations promoting actions that
are of little consequence or that are even wrong and hurtful. Let's remind
ourselves of the doctor's dilemma.
If a medical doctor mis-diagnoses his patient, thereby
prescribing the wrong cure, and the patient dies, whose fault is that?
What if the patient could have been cured had she been given the right
medicine? Evidently, a doctor can become his patient's worst enemy if he
makes the wrong diagnosis; if he does not understand what is the cause
of the symptoms. Likewise a green organisation can become the worst enemy
of its own cause, if it does not understand/diagnose the problem. Unfortunately
this has become quite commonplace and wide-spread.
An example is the looming extinction of the northern Hectors
dolphin or Maui dolphin. All attention is focused on the threat from fishing
and set-nets to such extent that all fishing where this dolphin occurs
may need to be stopped. But the real cause of the Hectors dolphin's demise
is marine degradation or the sick sea syndrome which causes still
births and shortens their life span while also diminishing their food supply.
We need to halt and reverse the eutrophication of our coastal seas. Failing
that, Hectors dolphin will go extinct. Yet nobody is even suggesting
that. In the meantime we feel good that at least we have done something.
In a few years from now, the Maui dolphin will
be declared extinct as society flounders. Whose fault is that? The farmers
who produced the pollution, the fishermen who killed some dolphins in their
nets, the politicians who made the laws that didn't work, the green organisations
who pushed for these laws, or the scientists who mis-diagnosed the problem?
Will the public ever know? Will scientists ever say "we were wrong"? Will
politicians reverse set net bans, bans on fishing and marine mammal sanctuaries
once the dolphins are extinct?
f004414: the Goat Island marine reserve during a fine day
before Christmas. The sea is blue and divers are taking their last open
water tests. It takes little imagination that this protected area could
become a kind of paradise.
f013205: Goat Island marine reserve during a rainy week in
winter. Copious amounts of mud have turned the water brown as the land
is poisoning the sea. Dense plankton blooms that thrive on the nutrients,
cause death of many organisms, but WHY?.
example of people (and scientists) having lost the plot, is the myth of
the snapper-urchin-kelp trophic cascade (food dominoes falling). It goes
like this: in protected areas, after a while big snappers grow big enough
to crush the sea urchins (Evechinus chloroticus) that sit like low-hanging
fruit on the rocks, and they are assisted in this by the also bigger crayfish.
These sea urchins are voracious grazers that scrape the rock face with
their five teeth, and thereby remove seaweed 'seedlings' and even mature
plants. Therefore when there are fewer urchins, the seaweeds have a chance
to come back and recolonise the urchin barren zone. Marine reserves are
therefore characterised by bigger fish and more and bigger crayfish, few
if any urchins, and lots of kelp. Furthermore, the big fish produce more
spawn that then leaves reserves to re-establish life outside. It sounds
like a compelling story, but is entirely false. Even so, it has been spread
far and wide, and is quoted in every respectable science article about
marine reserves. There are environmental groups based on this, like Experiencing
Marine Reserves and educational
web sites, while many university students come to Leigh (often from
overseas) to count sea urchins inside and outside the reserve. How could
this go so wrong and stay wrong for so long?
The map shows the outer Hauraki Gulf and where transects were done. It
revealed the extent of kelpbed death of 92/93(white) but also that there
was one earlier in 91/92 (grey), just missing Goat Island and Tawharanui.
We have exposed the non-science (nonsense) of the urchin trophic cascades
extensively and conclusively in a long document (/issues/cons/science.htm)
which makes for interesting and educational reading, particularly because
we did our own observations and measurements in that period (/enviro/habitat/survey93.htm)
but here is its essence:
the kelp invasion of the urchin barrens was found only in two reserves:
Goat Island and neighbouring Tawharanui (marked in red on the map). Trying
to find it elsewhere led to failed experiments.
scientists kept mum about the extensive kelpbed death of 1993, even
though it was studied by them and reported upon. Our own research discovered
the full extent of the kelpbed deaths and that kelp invasion of the urchin
barrens happened only where previously the kelpbed suffered major damage
(see map white and grey areas). Scientists only needed to look at Kawau
Island and Great Barrier Island (marked yellow) to discover that these
places too, had lost their urchin barrens but these are not protected.
scientists kept mum about extensive urchin deaths, first reported
by us and later also studied by them. Urchins die from grazing a poisonous
dinoflagellate slime (ostreopsis), a product of degradation.
an extensive study to find habitat changes in an extensive range
of marine reserves from north to south New Zealand, found no effect
from protection (less than detectable), but an overwhelming effect
from degradation (water murkiness and dust deposition).
today (2007) the urchin barrens from the very north to East Cape on
the North Island have been overrun by kelp. An unaffected area has
become very rare. All this independent of marine protection.
So the vast evidence that the snapper-urchin-kelp trophic cascade is a
fallacy and a myth, are there for all to see and one does not need to be
a scientist to check it out. Yet, a scientific myth dies only slowly. Why?
To find an answer, study our essay about Science,
technology and human nature.
f023514: a young snapper absconds with a small sea urchin
offered to it but sea urchins are not snappers' preferred food.
f045234: mature urchins losing out against nutricious sea
lettuce (Ulva lactuca), invading their patch. There are not enough
urchins to keep their patch clean.
f049501: seaweeds are invading urchin barrens everywhere.
Here at the Cavalli Islands (not a reserve), it is done by featherweed
f034409: a sea urchin has folded its spines and is already
dead and smelly inside while its spines and tubefeet are still moving.
Its mistake was to graze the greenish poisonous dinoflagellate slime (ostreopsis),
as shown by a clean pink swath.
what do marine
reserves do well?
The success of marine reserves, measured by the number of visitors, is
often taken as proof that they are working to save the environment. As
we now understand, this is not the case. But what marine reserves do well,
is to protect an area for people's enjoyment. It resolves the conflict
between those who use the sea for taking and those who use it for exploration
and the joy of being in a natural environment. The two cannot go well together.
Here is what marine protected areas do well:
marine studies: marine reserves protect scientific experiments and
they also provide a more natural environment for marine studies. But this
does not mean that studies outside marine reserves should not be done.
marine education: for the same reasons as above, marine reserves
attract educational groups who come to study the sea. The rocky shore with
its many easy to catch creatures, is protected.
recreation: for those who come to enjoy the marine environment,
a marine reserve protects large fish as long as they remain inside. Underwater
photographers benefit from the way fish have become accustomed to divers,
and how much easier it is to take successful photographs.
To give an idea about these points, taking photographs of big snapper is
much easier inside marine reserves, yet the best dive spots around Leigh
are not found inside the Goat Island marine reserve. When all fishing was
stopped in the Poor Knights marine reserve, the big snappers became more
numerous and noticeable, and after a few years it was even possible to
take good photographs of some 'friendly' ones. It showed how easy it is
to catch these big fish, as one can toss half a slice of bread in the water,
and within minutes a large snapper takes the offerings, from only a few
metres away. Complete marine protection at the Poor Knights co-incided
with accelerating degradation by which most fish species became far less
common. Taking good photos of these has become a problem. One would have
thought that crayfish, already protected for twenty years at the Poor Knights,
would have come back, but they have not. I have never seen a young crayfish
there and old ones are hard to find. See our extensive Poor
f219420: snorkelling in the summer is safe and enjoyable
f022122: because people fed the fish, they became very friendly.
0511156: a large group of some 40 children does a guided
snorkel dive with Seafriends. They are all dressed in full protective suits
for warmth, safety and enjoyment.
f029212: a snorkeldiver approaches a long-tailed stingray
in the Poor Knights marine reserve where shallow sandy patches are rare.
chapters: (links to other sections)
Asked Questions about marine reserves and marine conservation.
This is your quick no-nonsense education about marine conservation and
marine reserves issues, fallacies and myths. Don't waste time, and begin
intertidal rocky shore: an extensive chapter about the principles
of the rocky shore habitat, complete with identifying photographs of over
300 species commonly found on the rocky shore. An excellent resource for
Island marine reserve: all you need to know about New Zealand's
first marine reserve, complete with identifying photographs, locations
of dive sites and much more.
Knights marine reserve: an extensive
section about the Poor Knights marine reserve, its history, ecology and
many identifying photos. (large)
research exposed: a scientific rebuttal of the snapper-urchin-kelp
myth and other questionable science. For those who wish to know how easily
science can become corrupted and how myths and fallacies originate.
war for marine reserves: New Zealand's government is waging a war
against its own people for marine reserves that cannot deliver, while stealing
the freedoms of our children. An historical document of the many stupid
decisions made today. Only reading is believing.
and fallacies in the marine reserves debate: an historical document
of the fallacies in our thinking, in many volumes. Worthwhile reading to
understand how propaganda is used to promote untested ideas. Documenting
a period in New Zealand's history that we cannot be proud of.
fish species: a list of commercial fish species in New Zealand
and an indication of their catch volumes.