Archive for This Week’s Comment

New, Free Online Training Course for Reef Managers (TNC)

As posted in Coral-List on March 11, 2010 (

The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with NOAA and with support from MacArthur Foundation, is offering a new virtual training program on Reef Resilience to provide coral reef managers, trainers, and policymakers guidance on building resilience to climate change into the design of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and daily management activities.

The course incorporates the new science, lessons learned, case studies, and practices that have been included in the on-line Reef Resilience toolkit and is designed to accelerate the knowledge and facilitate access to essential information and tools needed to incorporate resilience principles into management strategies.

While the focus of this course is on the problem of coral bleaching and actions that managers can take to address this problem, specifically in the context of Marine Protected Areas, the recommendations and tools can be applied to most threats that coral reefs face today. The program includes key aspects such as:

  • An introduction to mass coral bleaching and the ecological and social impacts
  • Description of the four main principles of resilience and how to identify factors of resilience
  • Recommendations on the design and management of resilient MPAs

This course is free and open to anyone interested in learning about Reef Resilience.

How to enroll in the course:

This free online course is available for you to work through at your own pace. Here are the steps to begin the training:

  1. Navigate to <http://home.tnc/workingattnc/learningattnc/development/>
  2. If you have not already done so, create an account on ConservationTraining <> by clicking the ‘Create new account’ link
  3. Once your account is created and confirmed, log into ConservationTraining <> and click ‘Reef Resilience – Self-paced’ course
  4. Enter the course and begin by reading the course description and syllabus

If you’d like more information about Reef Resilience and/or the online course, please email

CRA’s Comment:

As part of the CRA project, we encourage reef managers in the Caribbean to use this free resource to improve their knowledge and skills in the management of coral reef ecosystems.

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Ecological Restoration: History, services and rebuilding

A number of government agencies and conservation institutions around the world are underscoring the importance of restoration as a tool to protect habitats and ecosystems, and perhaps bring them to an acceptable functioning condition that resembles a previous historical condition.  Restoration requires science, experimentation, political will, funding and societal participation in the design and implementation of restoration programs and projects.  In the United States, agencies (e.g., NOAA) support local stewardship efforts in restoring habitats.  In July 2009, Science published a special issue (vol. 325, no. 5940) on restoration ecology that deserves our attention.  As quoted from the authors, “restoration ecology is a relatively new science…. But in its short life it assumed a major role in sustainable development efforts across the globe.” In relation to our endeavors in identifying the best science for the conservation of marine and coastal resources in the Caribbean, we recommend two articles for further reading from this special issue: Ecological Restoration in the Light of Ecological History by S.T. Jackson and R.J. Hobbs; Restoration of Ecosystems Services for Environmental Markets by M.A. Palmer and S. Filoso.  On a similar note, we also suggest reading Rebuilding Global Fisheries (Science, vol. 325, p. 578), which was written by a number of scientists led by Boris Worm and Ray Hilborn.

Jackson and Hobbs argue on the importance of the historical perspective on ecosystems and the need for paleoecological and paleoenvironmental studies in understanding “existing and historical ecosystems, determining the circumstances under which they arose, gauging the range of environmental variability they have experienced, and identifying different levels of intervention” (2009:568). These authors are cautious, but firm in their view of the need for a historical analysis of ecosystems, prior to a deliberation on how to restore them.  Their model and recommendations are straightforward; however, they fail to mention the human component. In many cases, historical ecosystems and paleoenvironments show evidence of the human footprint in varying degrees.  Namely, restoration must also consider archaeological and paleoecological factors (which are often worked in tandem) in order to create a more precise view of past ecosystems.

Palmer and Filoso provide a short and precise discussion on ecosystem services and environmental markets, and their role in restoration.  The authors warn the reader on the many interpretations of restoration that are not ecologically sound.  If restoration is defined, in its purest form, as “returning an ecosystem to an undisturbed or historic state”, then one must be cautious with projects that propose the “creation” of a stream or a wetland in an area where there was none in the past. Furthermore, many projects are based on the structural characteristics of the ecosystem (e.g., developing a salt flat or a wooded area), but ecological processes are disregarded.  In addition, the difference between a service and a process are underscored: the former should be based on the scientific analysis of how is the ecosystem performing, while the latter delivers a service, such as “clean water to humans” (2009:575).

Rebuilding Global Fisheries (Worm et al. 2009) provides a worldwide panorama of the status of the stocks and starts, based on many scientific papers and data, with overfishing as the main culprit for its decline.  The article also reviews the status of fisheries science and the assessment of stocks on a global scale. Information on single species predominates, mostly in temperate regions and continental areas, where industrial fishing fleets operate with the most advanced technologies.  The authors acknowledge that, the “information … for small-scale artisanal and recreational fisheries is scarcer, less accessible, and more difficult to interpret. This is because small-scale fisheries are harder to track… ” (2009:581). The lack of enforcement and poor reporting make management difficult for small-scale fisheries, and thus, rebuilding (restoration) continues to be a major challenge. While this study offers important recommendations for the science of restoration and the rebuilding of stocks (“still a poorly understood process”), a poor understanding and treatment of the human factor remains, except for a handful of broad remarks on the socioeconomic factors shaping small-scale and industrial fisheries. Nevertheless, the overall analysis is top-notch and those interested in ecosystem restoration and stock rebuilding should further explore by reading this article.

Contribued by M. Valdés Pizzini

Sea Grant and CIEL

NOAA Restoration Center

Society for Ecological Restoration International

Global Restoration Network

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NOAA’s Efforts for Ecosystem Management

McFadden, K. W. and Barnes, C. (2009). The implementation of an ecosystem approach to management within a federal government agency. Marine Policy 33: 156-163.


The implementation of ecosystem management of marine natural resources is considered a challenge despite the overall consensus that it is essential to understand the complexity of these ecosystems at both ecologic and socioeconomic scales. Katherine McFadden and Cassandra Barnes (2009) report on the endeavors made by the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to execute and modify its strategies to incorporate an active ecosystem approach to management (EAM). Survey responses from nine programs associated with ecosystem science and management within NOAA from eight eco-regions (Northeast US Continental Shelf, Southeast Continental Shelf, Gulf of Mexico, California current, Alaska ecosystem complex, Pacific Islands, Great Lakes, and the Caribbean ecosystem) were analyzed. Initially, NOAA’s efforts began with its participation in the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force (IEMTF) in 1993. However, the implementation of EAM presented a significant change in the agency’s method of managing marine resources and its collaboration with other organizations. The United States Ocean Action Plan (USOAP) helped renew NOAA’s efforts for EAM with its integration in the 2004 Strategic Plan.

According to McFadden and Barnes (2009), 66 regional activities were identified, with the Gulf of Mexico contributing the largest number of EAM initiatives followed by the Northeast (although this may be due to specific mandates in these particular areas). Most EAM projects began approximately 7 years ago and vary widely in spatial scales. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was considered the major organization that had the largest number of EAM-related projects and the greatest portion of NOAA’s 2005 total budget for ecosystem-related research (58%). A statistical analysis showed no particular geographic region as the sole focus of NOAA’s efforts for EAM. Collaborative efforts with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations, and partnerships reached up to 70%, of which most were within other NOAA divisions and programs.

Survey responses were categorized into successful intents of EAM projects that concentrated on “collaborations, multidisciplinary approaches and identifying common priorities”. Partnerships with different organizations and agencies are considered essential to achieve an ample amount of information needed for better management strategies. Incorporating multiple disciplines from several areas of scientific knowledge (e.g., environmental sciences, psychology, and social sciences) are needed to assess needs and concerns that require alternatives/solutions based on an ecosystem approach. Being able to identify common priorities can help minimize the timeliness in recognizing problems and focus efforts on improving commitments between NOAA and local stakeholders.

The authors acknowledge that not all programs associated with EAM projects responded to this study and is not considered an “entirely comprehensive analysis”. However, the results obtained from this survey provided insight on how ecosystem management is perceived by most of the individuals involved in EAM activities and the extent of NOAA’s progress in executing this type of management as a large multidisciplinary agency.

To read more on this week’s Featured Article, check out our CRA Publication Database.

Dr. Ken Sherman (Director, U.S. Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) Program) – What criteria is used to name a LME?

CRA’s Comment

NOAA’s attitude towards marine resource management has been gradually changing in order to implement an ecosystem approach. However, integrating different forms of science, encouraging collaborations, lack of financial funds, and the need for a “big picture” view have been identified as being major challenges in improving the cooperation and understanding of EAM within NOAA (Barnes and McFadden, 2008)[1]. Interestingly, one of the strategies considered for a successful EAM is establishing collaborations with other organizations, agencies and the local community. CRA’s preliminary assessments of marine resource managers, experts and users in the Caribbean are in agreement for increasing collaborations and partnerships of governmental agencies and local stakeholders (see a detailed report of the scoping session at the 2008 Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Annual Meeting). We concur entirely with the authors in the sharing of information among partners outside and inside of NOAA, which foments the development of a comprehensive database that can be consistently updated with the latest data (McFadden and Barnes, 2009).

Contributed by J. Seda

NOAA Ecosystems Goal Team

National Coastal Development Center (Ecosystem Observation Program)

Large Marine Ecosystems of the World (Dr. Ken Sherman) –

[1] Barnes, C. and McFadden, K.W. (2008). Marine ecosystem approaches to management: challenges and lessons in the United States. Marine Policy 32: 387-392. (Free full text available here)

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Community-Based MPAs: Case study in Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Rodríguez-Martínez, R. E. “Community involvement in marine protected areas: The case of Puerto Morelos reef, México.” Journal of Environmental Management 88.4 (2008): 1151-60.


Using marine protected areas (MPAs) as a management tool for conservation can be effective, especially when local stakeholders, government agencies and communities take an active role in the planning and decision-making processes. Sadly, few efforts have been made for co-management and community involvement in MPAs of developing countries in the Caribbean. Rosa E. Rodríguez-Martínez (2008) revises the history and development of the community-based MPA in Puerto Morelos reef, which was established in 1998 and is located on the northeastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula. The author also discusses her view on the multiple problems encountered by the MPA and presents alternatives that may provide solutions for better co-management of marine resources and serve as an example for MPAs in other countries.

The management program was initially prepared by local stakeholders and the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, Universidad Nacional Autonóma de México (UNAM). Mostly formal and informal sessions were carried out to discuss and resolve conflict issues concerning the use of Puerto Morelos among the local stakeholders. One of the main concerns from the community when creating the MPA was its unsustainable use; however, some groups focused on prospects for major investments in the area. To better assist the communication among the different groups, an Advisory Council with various representatives from the government and community sectors was established in 2001.

Video: Community involvement in the sustainable use and conservation of Puerto Morelos Reef (March 20, 2008)


Several obstacles brought about by the federal government hindered the ability to efficiently administer and achieve the MPA’s full potential. The sharing of directors with other protected areas, due to lack of funds and personnel, was commonplace and tended to delay the development and implementation of agreements decided by the Council. For several years, the MPA had no federal funding and depended on the financial support of tourist operators and volunteers. Afterward, a user fee was established by federal law to tourists, but delays in its return to Puerto Morelos hampered the adequate implementation of the management program. Insufficient personnel has constantly been a hindrance for the MPA’s success, especially with budget cuts made during 2007. Enforcement of MPA regulations also represents a challenge because of the lack of coordination and cooperation among the governmental, federal, and municipal agencies on the correct measures needed for handling marine and coastal issues. Despite the government’s deficiencies, the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, UNAM devoted their efforts to the scientific research of the Puerto Morelos reefs, which became part of the permanent monitoring of coral reefs conducted by the Caribbean Coastal Marine Productivity Program (CARICOMP). Presently, it is considered part of a coral reef research initiative financed by the Global Environmental Facility through the World Bank.

Community participation is an important component of the MPA management; however, the problems presented by changes in MPA directors, busy agendas, and few attendees due to a loss of interest by the local stakeholders because of neglected agreements negatively affected the community’s enthusiasm to be involved in the management program. On the other hand, public education and awareness of coral reef conservation are well-supported and essential factors of the MPA’s creation and management. Several educational programs have been implemented throughout the years, but the lack of personnel has withheld the commencement of a 5-year program for community participation in the conservation of natural resources. Projects sponsored by the Programa de Desarrollo Sustentable (PRODERS, Sustainable Development Program) have also been successful in promoting sustainable development in communities surrounding the protected area. The existence of the MPA has also helped to develop a conscious effort by the community to enforce environmental regulations and prevent the development of projects that may threaten their lives and Puerto Morelos reefs.

Rodríguez-Martínez emphasizes the importance of the community’s participation for Puerto Morelos’ development as an MPA while lacking fixed federal funds to support the management program. Although, at present, the federal government has jurisdiction over Puerto Morelos, the local stakeholders continue to partake of the decision-making process. The author suggests that collaborative co-management in the administration of Puerto Morelos is essential for supporting the MPA, rather than solely community-based or centralized management. Agreements among different levels of governmental agencies and joint planning of actions are also considered key factors that should be improved to better manage MPAs. Another suggestion is to make management decisions based on scientific and monitoring data, which should be evaluated frequently with the purpose of quickly detecting and resolving problems. Overall, the author highly encourages the active collaboration of both resource users and local communities to effectively manage and sustain the use of MPAs similar to Puerto Morelos.

To read more on this week’s Featured Article, check out our CRA Publication Database.

CRA’s Comment

UPR-SG considers community involvement an essential component for the effective management and sustainable use of marine resources. Rodríguez-Martínez (2008), based on her personal experience as a participant of the Puerto Morelos management program, strongly suggests the co-management of both government agencies and local stakeholders in order to make better decisions for the MPA. In the case of Puerto Morelos, an advisory council was appointed in order to discuss and resolve conflicts among the local stakeholders. During our visit to a regular meeting of the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council (June 2009), we observed a similar interchange of ideas between non-governmental organizations (NGOs), territory institutions for natural resource management, federal agencies, and commercial fishermen. Bearing this in mind, the CRA project intends to obtain information regarding concerns for research and management of marine resources in the Caribbean from several groups, such as NGOs, governmental agencies, scientists, and local resource users. It is imperative that all parties, whether public or private, contribute to the sustainable use and conservation of our marine resources.

Contributed by J. Seda

Photo: Boats at Puerto Morelos (

National Park – Puerto Morelos Reef (Parque Nacional Arrecife de Puerto Morelos)

Information about Puerto Morelos reef from the CaribbeanMPA database (CaMPAM)

Coral reef targeted research and capacity building for management

Resource for relevant links associated with Caribbean MPAs (CIEL) –

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Why Conserve our Marine Ecosystems?

Owens, Susan. 2008. Why conserve marine environments? (Comment). Environmental Conservation 35(1):1-4.


The urgency to promote the conservation of marine environments is analyzed by Owens (2008) as a moral injunction that involves acknowledging the right or wrong in using these systems for human benefit. The majority of the literature addressing this subject is in agreement that it is wrong to degrade or destroy these ecosystems and should limit human activities that cause harmful impacts.  However, the real question is why they should be conserved. The reasoning behind this principle has a direct influence on the validation for measures taken in conservation and on the types of policies that may ensue. Although this reasoning may vary over time, especially due to changes in policies and political influences, special characteristics of marine environments help reinforce the need to conserve this system. These unique characteristics include its ‘invisibility’ (e.g., presently, the ocean remains partially unknown), its vulnerability to human exploitation, and its wild nature that is in co-existence with the human world.

The author suggests that to justify the importance of marine conservation, prudent self-interest, in which the ‘services’ that are provided by these systems should not outweigh its unsustainability, is in favor of this rationale and may also be coupled with the limited understanding of these ecosystems. However, the key motivation is this: ‘the benefits of conservation outweigh the costs, such that humanity will be better off in the aggregate if the marine environment is protected.’ Several retorts argue whether the human needs and wants should overcome the efforts for conservation due to the utilitarian frameworks that prefer human welfare to be maximized and if the concept of intrinsic value, which considers non-human entities to possess rights and ‘…should be free…to pursue their own goods’, is valid when the basic needs of humans are in jeopardy. In principle, it is possible to reach a common ground in which the values and beliefs among private and public interests may concur on the behalf of conserving marine environments until these efforts are exhausted and differences in moral values may result in conflicting policies.

To read more on this week’s Featured Article, check out our CRA Publication Database.

CRA’s Comment

One of the obstacles that have been frequently mentioned in discussion sessions consisting of resource managers and users, in which UPRSG has participated, is the influence of politics on the development of strategies that may help improve marine resource management and conservation. Political agendas constantly change depending on the delegation that is governing at the time and, as a result, may alter efforts for marine conservation according to their particular interests regardless of the harmful impact that may ensue. However, Owens (2008) states that the basis for marine conservation is mostly founded on moral values and should be emphasized in order to establish a common ground among the protectors of these ecosystems and the adversaries that favor the utilitarian framework that maximizes human benefits despite possible damages to the environment. Local resource managers and users are in agreement that attempts must be made to go beyond political interests and create policies that will provide sustainable use of resources and render benefits for both humans and the marine environment.

Contributed by J. Seda

Organizations committed to marine conservation in the Caribbean:

Nature Conservancy –

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program –


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Marine Spatial Planning (MSP): Stakeholders Wanted!

Pomeroy, Robert and Douvere, Fanny. 2008. The engagement of stakeholders in the marine spatial planning process. Marine Policy 32: 816-822.


For effective management of marine ecosystems, we must view them as a combination of both natural and human elements that must be mutually benefitted and sustained. Marine spatial planning (MSP) as defined by Ehler and Douvere (2007)[1] involves a process of developing management strategies that take into account all the living organisms in the marine environment and promotes consistent decision making among all sectors in a particular area. For this reason, identifying the stakeholders involved in marine-related activities and their active participation in MSP is essential for its success. Stakeholders are considered key players for resource management planning and can help to better understand the human impact on ecosystems and the complexities of these systems. They may also help to identify and resolve underlying conflicts and develop goals that are beneficial to several sectors for the sustainable, long-term availability of marine resources.

Pomeroy and Fanny (2008) propose four key stages in which stakeholders and the public sector should be active participants in order to achieve successful MSP: (1) planning, (2) evaluation, (3) implementation, and (4) post-implementation phases. In the planning phase, stakeholders must contribute to the needs, priorities, and goals of the MSP. During the evaluation phase, these issues are subsequently evaluated by the stakeholders and the various options are assessed based on their interest areas as proposed in the MSP. In the implementation phase, the MSP is applied and measures for management of marine resources are encouraged and enforced throughout the local community. An evaluation of the overall effectiveness in fulfilling the goals and objectives of the MSP is performed during the post-implementation phase.

Although there is a consensus among scientists and resource managers that stakeholders are essential for effective ecosystem-based management, there is no clear process of how to identify and involve these stakeholders in the MSP. For this reason, the authors suggest a comprehensive method of stakeholder analysis and mapping that will acknowledge and empower the stakeholders (with information and skills) in the MSP. Several steps that should be taken as part of this analysis are (1) adequately defining who is a stakeholder, (2) identifying the group/interest/networks that they are associated with and their importance/relevance in that group, and (3) their position on conservation measures of natural resources. Stakeholders can also be categorized as primary, secondary, and tertiary depending on their level of interest, involvement, and impact on the community and the resource. Socio-economic assessments (SEAs) should also be considered important for MSP in order to learn about the various aspects (political, social, economical, and cultural) that constitute (form) a community and the stakeholders that belong to that particular area. Interviews in the form of a core group are efficient in obtaining information from stakeholders, scientists, and resource managers that are willing to share their knowledge and contribute to the development of an effective MSP. Essential components of the MSP process are the sharing of information, community outreach and education of marine resources, capacity building, and communication among stakeholders from private and public sectors to bring about successful ecosystem-based management.

[1] Ehler C, Douvere F. Visions for a sea change. Report of the first international workshop on marine spatial planning. Intergovernmental oceanographic commission and man and the biosphere programme. IOC manual and guides no. 48, IOCAM Dossier no. 4. Paris: UNESCO; 2007.

To read more on this week’s Featured Article, check out our CRA Publication Database.

CRA’s Comment

Identifying stakeholders is a major component of UPRSG’s Caribbean-wide assessment of research priorities and needs of marine resource managers, users, and scientists. As recommended by Pomeroy and Douvere (2008), engaging stakeholders in marine resource management planning is crucial for its effective and practical implementation. The interview process is a useful tool and one of the most important methods of acquiring information on the human impact/factors and intricacy of marine ecosystems. Group discussions are also encouraged by the authors, which help to assemble stakeholders with particular interests in the use of marine resources. UPRSG applied this method by hosting a discussion (scoping) session at the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute 61st Annual Meeting at Le Gosier, Guadeloupe on November 13, 2008. Approximately 80 scientists, experts, and resource managers mainly involved in fisheries management from the Caribbean and adjacent countries participated in the session. General questions were presented that focused on short- and long-term research needed for fisheries management, information that can be used by resource managers to become better decision-makers, and obstacles that are presently hindering research/assessments that can help improve fisheries management. In this particular group discussion, mostly resource managers and scientists provided information concerning these issues on a regional level, specifically to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. However, other important stakeholders, such as local fishermen, were not well represented in this meeting. This particular detail of misrepresentation must be addressed when seeking an extensive assessment that incorporates all parties involved in marine resource use and management.

Contributed by J. Seda

UNESCO’s Guide on MSP

Featured Article in, Sea Grant-PR’s Environmental Magazine (Spanish): Xplorah – A tool for future planning in the present

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