Seahorse image courtesy of Mike Pallett

Funded by the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation, this is a project to increase understanding of how the level of management of marine protected areas (MPAs) can influence delivery of marine ecosystem services. This is being addressed using spatial stochastic modelling approaches, together with scaling techniques and case study analysis.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a key management tool to halt the global decline in marine biodiversity and fish stocks. The purpose of MPAs is to conserve marine species and habitats; this is achieved by restricting damaging human activities. The amount of restrictions varies from none (paper parks) to very high levels of protection. MPAs also provide benefits for society through provision of ecosystem services (ecosystem outputs that have human welfare value). These include the fish we eat, regulation of our climate by the sea and shoreline protection from erosion by coastal habitats.

This project aims to increase understanding of how the level of management of MPAs can influence the delivery of marine ecosystem services. 

Our understanding of the benefit flow arising from the marine environment and how it can be enhanced or supported by MPA designation is far from complete. This work will unravel how the management of specific human activities can 1) enable the recovery of marine habitats and species and 2) mediate ecosystem service flows with the recovery of associated functions and processes. 

This will be addressed using a variety of different tools including modelling, scaling techniques and case study analysis. Initial work will reveal how ecosystem services interact with each other and human activities at individual site scale, informing later work at landscape scale, including the effects of fisheries exclusions and displacement on overall ecosystem service provision. The case studies selected for detailed analysis comprise Lyme Bay, Dorset, the North Devon Biosphere Reserve and Skomer, Wales. 

Project outputs are designed to be timely and driven by current research needs, and will 1) inform decisions on MPA management at a critical time as the emphasis moves from site selection to management within the emerging UK network, as well as 2) contribute to the wider academic debate on MPAs and human welfare. 

The project team, led by Professor Martin Attrill and Dr Olivia Langmead, benefits from the support of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation.  

Mussel beds

Blue mussel beds provide a diverse range of ecosystem services including nutrient cycling, habitat formation, sediment regulation, food provision, prevention of coastal erosion and immobilsation of pollutants.