16 April 2014
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), also commonly referred to as marine reserve areas or marine managed areas, exist worldwide having been established since the 1960s on tropical and temperate reefs. Despite the different names or types, their main purpose is to protect a sea area or zone from anthropogenic (human-caused) disturbances such as over-harvesting of marine animals, use of destructive fishing practices or tourism development. They can also be zoned for specific uses, such as tourism (snorkelling, diving, etc.), scientific research, and conservation. In essence, MPAs act as a management tool for fisheries and the conservation of biodiversity.
The creation of marine protected areas can reduce the use of destructive fishing and unsustainable fishing methods as regulations can be properly enforced within the zoned areas.
Moreover, scientific research has affirmed the effectiveness of MPAs in improving ecological diversity. Results indicate that the reduced use of destructive fishing methods in a protected area successfully increases fish stocks and maintains ecological diversity over a period of time. In marine areas that are fully protected from animal or plant removal and habitat alteration, the biomass and density (amount) of animals and plants increases, as does species diversity and the body size of the animals. A fully protected area allows fishes to grow bigger and produce more babies; this reproduction process is essential to produce fish for human consumption as well as balance the ecosystem.
Scientific evidence also reveals that MPAs protect coral reefs, which are an important habitat for most marine animals, especially juveniles.
In Malaysia, MPAs are managed by the Federal government (Department of Marine Parks Malaysia or DMPM), State governments (Sabah and Sarawak government), and private companies.
As of 2013, DMPM manages 248,613 hectares of marine protected area, which include 42 islands in Peninsular Malaysia and federal territories gazetted as marine parks. All MPAs in Peninsular Malaysia and federal territories are managed by DMPM. In Sarawak, the 234,362 hectares of marine protected area is managed by the Sarawak Forestry Department while Sabah Parks manages 73,793 hectares of marine protected area in Sabah.
Although MPAs can be an effective tool in managing marine resources, protected areas alone cannot address problems such as pollution, climate change or overfishing. Other management strategies are still needed to supplement the establishment of protected areas.
Nonetheless, areas that are protected have proven to benefit marine biodiversity, helping to recover fish populations affected by overfishing. The establishment of protected areas is increasing around the world. Indeed, one of the strategic plans of the Convention on Biological Diversity is the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, which state that at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas should be conserved effectively and equitably managed by 2020. Malaysia currently has 1.4 percent of MPAs; more must be done to meet international targets and standards.