Protecting areas of the ocean and coastlines with “whole-site” Marine Protected Area (MPA) status can result in four-fold increases in the abundance and diversity of fish populations, a new study has shown.
Researchers from the University of Plymouth have been monitoring the impact of the Lyme Bay MPA since it was designated in 2008. They found the number of different fish species inside the controlled zone is now more than four times (430%) greater than found outside the MPA’s boundaries.
In terms of overall abundance, there are 370% more fish to be found within the MPA than in similar areas outside it where bottom-towed fishing are still permitted. The study also showed the range of commercially important fish species outside the MPA rose over the 11-year period following the designation.
Taken together, they say it demonstrates the importance of implementing whole-site protection for marine habitats – where the most destructive activities such as scallop-dredging are excluded from the whole MPA – and how such a practice can benefit and maintain sustainable fisheries and species of conservation importance.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, is the result of regular monitoring using underwater video cameras.
Every year, researchers have recorded baited video surveys inside and outside boundaries of the MPA to monitor the area’s fish population. Over 11 years, that has resulted in sightings of more than 13,000 individual organisms ranging from small scavenging invertebrates such as whelks, starfish and hermit crabs to large, highly mobile predatory vertebrates such as sharks and rays.