The whole-site management of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) can increase the total abundance of reef species within its borders by up to 95%, according to new research.
This is in contrast to regions where only known features are conserved, with species abundance increasing by just 15% in those areas compared to others where human activity is allowed to continue unchecked.
The findings are highlighted in a study by the University of Plymouth, and are the latest to emerge from its long-running monitoring of marine conservation measures in Lyme Bay, off the south coast of England.
The area is home to two co-located MPAs that have adopted different management styles in their exclusion of bottom-towed fishing.
There is a 270km2Special Area of Conservation (SAC), where measures are in place to protect the known extent of sensitive reef habitats. Within that is a 206km2 area – including a mosaic of reef and sedimentary habitats – where the whole site is protected under a Statutory Instrument.
The new study, published in Fisheries Management and Ecology, showed that in addition to an increase in overall reef abundance, the whole-site approach can have significant other benefits.
The mobile species in the whole-site MPA showed levels of functional redundancy – where any species loss is compensated by other species – 7% higher than in neighbouring areas. The whole-site approach also resulted in higher levels of species diversity.
Researchers say this is indicative of a healthier seabed, which is generally more resilient to incidents such as storms or biological invasions.