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Project Details

Are Marine Protected Areas Working in the U.S. Virgin Islands?

Project Status: This project began in January 2011 and was completed in September 2013

We used a decade of underwater monitoring data to evaluate the effectiveness of no-take and partial-take Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) located in the US Virgin Islands in the context of differing levels of enforcement and compliance. Results will provide managers with a status report that can guide management actions and communicate to a wide audience how the MPAs are performing.

Why We Care
Managers of US Virgin Island (USVI) marine resources implemented Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of various types (seasonal closures and no-take areas) to conserve and protect coral reefs that provide essential habitat for fish and invertebrates from the impacts of fishing. MPAs in the USVI are well established and include several areas closed to fishing. Managers need to know how their MPAs are performing in order to develop effective management plans and realistic targets.

This project will show the effectiveness of the MPAs and perhaps help to determine if improvements can be made. Our work determines if MPAs are working to boost the abundance and size of previously fished species, increase coral abundance, and restore ecosystem integrity; as has been reported from other MPAs around the world.

What We Are Doing
We are evaluating and comparing coral reef ecosystems with varying levels of protection: MPAs that allows fishing vs. MPAs that do not allow fishing. The objectives of this study are to:

  1. Use long-term monitoring data to report on ecological status and trends for a variety of MPA performance indicators  (i.e. fish biomass, herbivore abundance, adult fish body size)
  2. Investigate how enforcement and compliance with fishing regulations impact MPAs.
  3. Evaluate effectiveness of no-take vs. take zones looking at fish abundance and body-size which are indicative of vulnerability to fishing and influence rate of recovery.
  4. Design and develop report cards for each MPA and species fact sheets for selected organisms that managers can use to educate the public.
  5. Use findings to help USVI managers improve their MPAs.

We are working with managers and scientists from the Buck Island Reef National Marine Monument, National Park Service (NPS), Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, NPS, Caribbean Field Office of the US Geological Survey, University of the Virgin Islands, NOAA NMFS Office of Law Enforcement, NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program, and NOAA NMFS Office of Protected Resources.

Expected Outcomes, Impacts, and Benefits of Our Work

  • Report cards on the ecological status and trends of species will provide managers with easy access to indicators of the ecosystem’s condition within the MPA, and will serve as tools to educate the public about the effectiveness of the MPAs.
  • Education of the public about MPA success should result in increased public compliance with MPA regulations.
  • Managers of low performance MPAs can work with scientists and stakeholders to determine and address causes for low performance.
  • The results will provide important information to educate managers and the public on expectations for MPAs and limitations under different management strategies in the USVI.
  • Compilation and synthesis of data on MPA enforcement and public compliance with existing regulations will provide information on gaps in enforcement and identify issues that may be hindering public compliance.

Regions of Study: Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, US Virgin Islands

Primary Contacts: Chris Jeffrey, Simon Pittman, John Christensen

Research Theme: Science for Coastal Ecosystem Management (Biogeographic Assessment, Protected Species, Coral)

Related NCCOS Center: CCMA

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