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Hawaiian Marine Life Conservation Districts Studied for Effectiveness

The National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science published the first comprehensive evaluation of Hawaii’s system of state marine protected areas (MPAs).The report, Fish Habitat Utilization Patterns and Evaluation of the Efficacy of Marine Protected Areas in Hawaii, examined the eleven Marine Life Conservation Districts (MLCDs) established by the state of Hawaii over the last four decades in support of conservation and education objectives and surrounding areas for biodiversity and fisheries conservation effectiveness.

The report also made recommendations for effective design of MPAs. Three key study findings were that 1) areas fully protected from fishing had higher fish biomass, larger overall fish size, and higher biodiversity than adjacent areas of similar habitat quality; 2) habitat complexity, protected area size, and habitat diversity were the major factors in determining effectiveness among MPAs; and 3) all of the MLCDs were too small to provide any measurable positive influence on adjacent fished areas.

The methods and results in this study, which NCCOS conducted with funding from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and in partnership with a number of other agencies and organizations, may be applied to other regions working on MPA design, management and evaluation.

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