Marine reserves

A potential solution to the localized depletion and habitat degradation that may result from extensive and unmonitored collection of marine ornamentals is the creation of marine reserves, areas where fishing is prohibited or controlled. Marine reserves have often been recommended, and suggested as useful tools in managing marine fisheries (usually food fisheries), for they have

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been shown to increase fish abundance and protect

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ecosystems from habitat destruction due to fishing . Hence, they could also, if set up and managed appropriately, prove to be a valuable tool for managing aquarium

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fisheries , , , . Australia, for example, has developed an effective management strategy whereby coral reef habitats have been divided into zones for different uses, which include no-take areas74. Selected collection areas, representing less than 1 per cent of the reefs in a region, have been established for licensed collectors to harvest coral for the aquarium trade74. Government statistics show that despite collectors harvesting 45-50 tonnes of coral per year for 20 years, no noticeable impact on the resource has been observed74.

Reef fish assemblages and patterns of distribution of fish are influenced by the associated reef habitat, which provides food and shelter to a large number of organisms. The greater the complexity of the reef structure the greater the available fish biomass and the more diverse fish assemblages will be233. Therefore, in order to be effective at protecting the wide range of fish species of interest to the marine aquarium trade, marine reserves need to include a great diversity of habitats, i.e. have structural complexity18. The limited home range size and high level of habitat specificity associated with marine ornamental fish seem to indicate that marine reserves should be effective tools at managing ornamental fish populations.

Management decisions (e.g. location for reserves) should involve participation by all stakeholders, with appropriate consultation with scientists and fishers at the local and national levels, so as to minimize conflict and optimize benefits55, 234, 235. Marine reserves are likely to be most successful at ensuring the sustainable use of local resources as well as increasing awareness and understanding of conservation and management issues if implemented by the collectors and relevant members of the community themselves, a process often referred to as community-based management. By giving community members a sense of ownership of their resources, they will more likely guard these against destructive uses17, 30.

Traditional management under customary marine tenure (CMT) presents a unique set of conditions for the successful implementation of marine reserves. CMT plays a key role in the overall social, economic and cultural aspects of societies in the Pacific Islands222. In the Pacific basin, although CMT comes under a range of different organizational concepts, and has in part been eroded because of colonialism, the local community is often the exclusive owner of marine resources, managing coastal fisheries and habitats222. The essence of CMT structures is based on the idea that the more responsibility is left to local communities for the control of local resources, the less governments will have to be implicated in legal, conservation and social issues, and the greater the sense of responsibility members will have towards the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources and habitats. However, their effectiveness is likely to be dependent on how such systems adapt to changing socio-economic conditions.

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