FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions
about marine reserves and marine conservation
By Dr J Floor Anthoni (2003)
Many people question the wisdom of marine reserves, as they listen to the platitudes and reassurances given by protagonists, bureaucrats and politicians. In this section you will get honest and well-researched answers to your concerns. It is unfortunate, that in the course of a quarter century of marine conservation, many myths, half-truths and fallacies have entered the discussion about the value of marine reserves. It is time to test the truth. Read this chapter with care. For those who know little about the sea, this page is a good beginning, and a good introduction to marine reserves.
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The word protagonist is often used (Gk: proto=before; agonistes= actor; chief actor; an advocate or champion of a cause)
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what is marine conservation?
what is a Marine Protected Area (MPA)?
what are Mataitai and Taiapure reserves?
what is a marine reserve?
what is a de-facto marine reserve?
what is it that marine reserves do best?
does trawling destroy marine habitats and biodiversity?
do marine reserves help fisheries?  (updated March 2007)
do marine reserves have more fish?
how are fish counted?
do marine reserves reduce fishing pressure overall?
do we need networks of marine reserves?
are marine reserves needed because fisheries are failing everywhere?
should we have marine reserves where no threats exist?
should we have marine reserves near cities?
should we hurry into creating more marine reserves?
what are good and bad practices for setting up marine reserves?
have existing marine reserves been evaluated?
how many reserves do we have and where?
are protected areas created by Min of Fisheries marine reserves?
do marine reserves protect biodiversity?
do we need to protect every habitat in order to protect biodiversity? (10 Aug 2007)
do marine reserves provide an insurance?
can marine reserves provide resilience against threats from pollution?
how serious is degradation?
how can degradation be bad as bacterium species increase in number?
can marine reserves fail?
what are the Five Myths of conservation and restoration?     (9 Aug 2005)
the early Maori burnt large areas of forest - why is the European burn worse?
why does sewage damage when treatment plants are so safe?
why do I see little degradation on the intertidal rocky shore?
is the Goat Island marine reserve a success story?
can we learn from situations overseas?
why is so much wrong with marine reserve science?
will more research improve the quality of our marine reserves?
how many marine reserves are needed, and where?
on land we have more than 10% of protected areas and national parks, why not in the sea?
do marine reserves create great fishing spots?
why do fish spill out of a marine reserve?
are fish larvae spilling out?
what is the thistledown effect?
do marine reserves produce more spawning mass?
do marine reserves recruit more fish than outside?
do scientists benefit from marine reserves?
would more marine reserves make Goat Island less visited?
marine reserves cause the kelpbed to expand and sea urchins to disappear. Is this true?
what is the real urchin story?
is it better to have more kelp?
is there a need for a Marine Reserves Act?
is the Department of Conservation the best guardian of marine reserves?
can concessions control problems inside a marine reserve?
does the public have access to marine reserves?
how should marine reserves be managed?
what are our main problems in managing the seas?
what is the situation overseas?
I can't escape the conclusion that I have been deceived. Is this true?
what is Seafriends' position on marine reserves?
how can I help?
do you have some exercises?

For suggestions, improvements and comments, please e-mail the author, Dr Floor Anthoni
-- home -- conservation index -- top -- myths&fallacies --
Revised: 20030312,20030412,20030505,20030605,20040617,20050809,20060331,20060926,

What is marine conservation?
Marine conservation is essentially the act of saving our seas for future generations. The word conservation is often misunderstood to mean improving the present conditions, but it works only when all threats are taken away, forever
Conservation is thus impossible without knowing what threatens the environment. Our national parks are often praised for their quality, but because invasive grazers such as rabbit, possum, goat, deer and pig are still present, and also exotic predators like wild cat, stoat, rat, mouse, wasp, trout and more, these parks have little conservational value. They cannot and will not protect our native flora and fauna in the long term. By contrast, the conservation islands like Little Barrier Island, Hen and Chickens, Kapiti and Stewart Island and others, do not suffer such threats, and they will be safe for our native wildlife. For conservation to work however, also size is important, because the wildlife inside Noah's Ark must have sufficient individuals of each species to contribute to a varied gene pool. A varied gene pool is necessary in order to be able to adapt to changing circumstances in the long term, such as climate change. Nature does not 'design' new organisms, but selects those who survive, which may lead to new traits or organisms, or extinction. Exchange of genes must also be present. It is because of this, that even the above mentioned islands may fail in the long term.

Fortunately, the situation in the sea is entirely different. Here the habitats have not been changed by human farming, habitation, industry, roads and more. Also, in the sea all areas are interconnected. There are no islands under water as they are above the water. So conservation of our seas makes a better chance. But like the situation on land, marine conservation works only when all threats are taken away.

Should you wish to read more about the principles of conservation, visit Seafriends/conservation/principles. Should you wish to know how much the sea differs from the land, read Seafriends/conservation/biodiversity/marine.

What is a Marine Protected Area (MPA)?
A Marine Protected Area is an area in the sea where some protection applies, but usually not complete protection. There can be many reasons for protecting an area in the sea, not just to manage fishing, but to allow activities to proceed without intervention of the public, like bombing practice areas, mining areas, oil exploration areas, navigational wrecks, ammunition dumps, and so on. One may protect areas from anchoring on, such as cable ways because cables can be torn, and international shipping lanes because large ships cannot dodge small craft at anchor.
MPAs can also be declared for traditional fishing, or to set an area aside for a local community. In New Zealand, the Ministry of Fisheries can create Mataitai and Taiapure reserves (see below).

What are Mataitai and Taiapure reserves?
Mataitai Reserves are traditional fishing areas of special significance to tangata whenua (the Maori people), who are authorised to manage non-commercial fishing in that area. Management aims must be consistent with sustainable use of the fisheries resources, and fish stocks within Mataitai may be enhanced.
 Management controls apply both to Maori and non-Maori fishers and are enforced by MoF compliance staff and Honorary Fisheries Officers. Bylaws can cover such matters as limiting species, methods, sizes and quantities. A Rahui (temporary closure) may be imposed to allow stocks to recover.

Taiapure reserves may be declared in estuarine and coastal waters that have customarily been of special significance to any iwi or hapu (tribe) as a source of food for spiritual or cultural reasons. Although a Taiapure is managed by Maori, other fishermen have access, and commercial fishing may occasionally be allowed.

To find out more about how many of these reserves have been created and where, visit the MoF web site or Seafriends/reserves .

What is a marine reserve?
A marine reserve is an MPA (Marine Protected Area) that enjoys very high levels of protection and continuity (no-taking, forever, without discontinuity). The idea behind such reserves is that they are in principle able to recover to a more natural state, and hopefully even to a pristine state as if human influence had never occurred. It is a very noble and exciting endeavour. Just imagine having areas in the sea which look the same as the coast was before their discovery by humans!

However, most marine reserves created today will not even come close to this ideal, because of a number of reasons. See how marine reserves can fail, below. But those located far away from civilisation, such as the Kermadecs, Auckland Islands and others, indeed come close to this ideal. Their remoteness has afforded them de-facto protection through the ages.

What is a de-facto marine reserve?
De-facto marine reserves are areas in the sea that have enjoyed protection for many years, for reasons other than protection of the environment. These are the cableways, shipping lanes, ammunition dumps, oil drilling platforms and others. New Zealand has about 3000km2 (300,000 ha) of it, roughly half in cableways and the other half in ammunition dumps. 
By comparison, we have created 16 marine reserves in 25 years of marine conservation, of which the coastal reserves (excluding outlying islands) cover about 150km2. The de-facto marine reserves where anchoring and fishing have been prohibited for over half a century, are thus 20 times larger than our marine reserves. Yet they have never been investigated for their value to biodiversity and fishing. In fact, what is known, is that their fish stocks have declined just as they have everywhere else. This is a major argument doubting the value of marine reserves for fishing, and also one that goes against creating more reserves, and certainly one that questions why suddenly, such haste is pressed by politicians. The current policy is to have 10% of our coast in MPAs before 2010.

Very remote islands, when also unproductive, can enjoy de-facto marine reserve status, since they are essentially economic deserts. The Kermadec Islands are of such nature.

What is it that marine reserves do best?
Marine reserves are particularly good for:
Ironically, only one of the above reasons is not a selfish one. Marine reserves work best for our own enjoyment. Protagonists have recognised this as the other reasons for having them. What they overlook, is that these activities are successful only when good access is available and clear water. Everywhere else they will fail. Read more at Seafriends/conservation/marine.
Also read about the insurance value of marine reserves below, to understand what they do not do well.

Does trawling destroy marine habitats and biodiversity?
Protagonists often claim that trawling destroys the sea bottom habitat. This is only partly true. Various forms of trawl nets exist.

The scallop dredge is a small net (2-5m wide) with tynes (teeth) raking the bottom to scoop up burrowed clams. The net has a coarse mesh to let small organisms through. It acts a bit like a plough reaching only finger-deep. In this layer the sea bottom is perturbed regularly by fast burrowing organisms like worms. Also large storms cause damage to this layer. 

The net removes larger organisms, including the scallops' predators like whelks, starfish and octopus. When trawled with consideration, scallop beds can thrive by exploitation. However, spots of sufficient density must remain for male and female scallops to mix their separate spawn. Present GPS driven fishing techniques do not allow for this. Marine reserves may work, but they are too static and too far away. Scallop beds everywhere in the world are now being modified by the sedimentation of mud. Scallop mass-mortality is often caused by poisonous plankton blooms. Marine reserves won't protect against this but local management is a serious option.

The shrimp net is of moderate width (5-10m) riding on two sleds connected by a beam above the ground. A tickler chain with rollers entices shrimps to jump up and into the net which trails behind. The net has a very fine mesh to retain shrimps. Thus it also retains small fish. Because the juveniles of many species recruit and grow in the shallows where the shrimps are found (3-10m deep), a shrimp net is very destructive to other fisheries, but not as much to the sea soil which is perturbed by every storm at these depths. In the tropics, shrimp nets catch turtles which may drown. A Turtle Exclusion Devise (TED) has been invented to throw large species out before reaching the cod end (tapered bag).

The standard trawl net has varying width from 10-20m for a single trawler to 50-100m for pair trawlers. The net has a coarse mesh designed to let undersized fish through. It is kept open by otterboards (weighted hydrofoil wings) which slide over the bottom, able to dig a furrow of up to a finger depth. The rest of the net has little influence since the weight of fish under water is practically nil. Its influence on the sea bottom is almost negligible but fishers are known to trawl their sleds through beds of clams in order to damage these to attract fish.

The deep water trawl net is a very large net (100-200m wide), trawled with precision for depth. Most trawls do not touch the bottom, but it is known that they have been used in a risky manner to skim sea mounts with delicate life.

When protagonists complain about alteration and destruction of sea bottom habitats, they imagine sea bottoms full of fragile organisms being smashed by hard metal at high speed. However, most of the trawled sea bottom consists of mud, muddy sand and sand or coarse shell. Here and there an opportunistic species can be found (soft coral, sponge, hydroid, seasquirt) on a stone or other hard bit. But there exist places in the sea with low profile rock covered in fragile and old sea life, particularly in places with clear water where sea currents scour mud and sand away while providing much needed food. Such places deserve protection, but they are found only by fishing them first.

Although fishing may alter a habitat, it takes much more damage to threaten biodiversity. Biodiversity entails viable populations of all species. As long as the conditions for recovery remain, populations can and will recover after fishing has become uneconomic. Where sessile organisms have been broken, they often continue living while contributing to procreation. There has been no record of extinction from overfishing in the sea, contrary to the situation on land.
However, it is more prudent to prevent overfishing and collateral damage. We must change our ways rather than believing that marine reserves will fix all ailments.

Do marine reserves have more fish?
Yes, scientific research has shown in many experiments, that the fish stock inside a closed area recovers (only where these were fished before). Fish become more numerous and bigger. It benefits particularly the large predators. Most studies report an increase of about 2-3 times to what is found outside. However, this affects only the exploited species. The thousands of other species remain unaffected, except that they may be more likely to be eaten by the larger predators.
Where comparisons are made between inside and outside the marine reserve, one should be extra careful because the resulting ratio represents more an unwanted effect of marine reserves than that the reserve 'is working'. The undesirable effect is that of the displacement of fishing where fishermen are forced to fish outside the reserve more heavily than they used to. One then sees the density of fish outside decreasing as at the same time that inside increases, although the total amount of fish stays the same. For instance, beginning with 100 fish inside and 100 outside (ratio=1.0), this becomes 150 in vs 50 out (ratio= 3.0), then180 inside vs 20 outside (ratio= 9.0) and so on.  So, a doubling of fish inside may lead to an extravagant ratio inside/outside. Because protagonists do not take care with such figures, you must be extra vigilant.
Do marine reserves attract fish?
In 2004, scientists completed a study on the permanent de-facto marine reserve around the Cape Canaveral rocket launch site. They tagged fish inside and outside the reserve and followed their movements. To everyone's surprise, fish inside stayed inside but those outside migrated into the reserve, never to leave. Inside the reserve, the tagged fish were lost, presumably due to predation. The scientists concluded that the marine reserve acted as a sink (like a bottomless pit) to fish(It 'ate' fish). Fish are attracted to other fish because of perceived safety in numbers, and predators are attracted to an easy meal. The study highlighted that scientists looked mainly at migration out of reserves by tagging fish only inside and studying their movements. By contrast, this study tagged fish both inside and outside, and is therefore more reliable. However, the study has also shown its limitations, such as the low numbers of fish migrating in or out, the possibility that the reserve could have provided good spawning habitat, the fact that this study was done inside an estuary rather than on an open coast, and that it was conducted only over a short time span.
For the complete article, visit http://fishbull.noaa.gov/1023/tremain.pdf

How are fish counted?
It is difficult to measure quantities and sizes of fish without actually catching them. Particularly schoolfish who roam around, are almost impossible to quantify. Here in NZ, scientists have employed the technique of the baited camera. It is essentially a heavy tripod with camera and a bait box on the bottom and in view of the camera. (BUV= Baited Underwater Video)
The bait attracts fish, and the scene is taped. By standardising the method, reasonably reproducible (repeatable) results can be achieved. At times, the results are verified (ground-truthed) by divers. The baited camera attracts only those fish who scavenge (eat dead animals) now and then, but those are the ones also exploited by angling (but not necessarily those trawled!). Paul Roux De Buisson [1] reports that large fish chase smaller fish away, which skews the distribution of fish size. Because of its restricted field of view, the BUV method is also quickly saturated, not seeing the competing fish nearby.
When divers count fish, their very presence affects their results, by on the one hand shying some fish away, and on the other hand double-counting those who follow them. The baited underwater video (BUV) technique is worse still, in that it attempts to lure fish from far away towards the camera. One pilchard tied to the outside of the bait box, even feeds (rewards) the fishes. In doing so, it under-counts those who are not hungry or not interested in bait, while over-counting those who are hungry and who have an acute sense of smell. Also, the presence of fish attracts other fish, particularly once they rip into the external pilchard. After a standard time of 30 minutes, the maximum number of fish shown is taken as the fish count!

The most worrisome aspect of this techinique is that it is at odds with a scientific principle of measuring apparatus, that of minimising the effects of the apparatus on the quantity measured. By contrast, the baited camera technique maximises its effects. It even creates its own data, because fish attract fish. In other words, it exaggerates. By scientific standards, it is thus a bad measuring instrument. Scientists have never proved its linearity either, meaning a one-to-one correspondence between measured and actual fish numbers. Results from this technique must therefore be interpreted with the utmost care. They are in fact suspect, and the method must be discarded, as should all results obtained with it so far. Yet scientists have not taken this precaution. Why?

Scientists claim that in the Goat Island reserve, fish is over 20x more numerous than outside. They also show that the reserve is so small, that about half the fish have leaked out. These figures are much higher than reported by other scientists. The worrisome consequence of these figures is that they imply that the fish stock outside has been fished down to less than 2% of their original stock. This is not in agreement with fisheries statistics. So, obviously something must be wrong in their interpretation. It would also imply that marine reserves are unsuitable for baseline comparisons, which could have benefited fisheries. When applying these figures to our very large de-facto marine reserves, they imply that astoundingly large stocks of fish of all kind must be found hiding there, which has not been observed.

In some other marine reserves in NZ, similarly high densities have been found (up to 10 times). There is something fishy with these figures because they do not cross-correlate. They are also far out compared with results from marine reserves elsewhere in the world. To use them uncritically for political purposes is bad science. Furthermore, most of our marine reserves do not follow this pattern as they show hardly any increase at all. See myths11 for marine reserve monitoring results.

While scientists were concentrating on only three commercial species (snapper, blue cod, crayfish), they failed to notice that a number of species have disappeared altogether where once they were common. Other populations have reduced their numbers considerably. No effort has been made to monitor indicator species representative of the health of the reserve, so the massive degradation of recent years has been left largely unrecorded. The people managing reserves (DoC) should share some of the blame. Read more in Seafriends/issues/cons/lessons from Leigh  and Marine science exposed .

[1] Paul Roux De Buisson (2009): Poor Knights Islands Marine Reserve and Mimiwhangata Marine Park fish monitoring 2009  (PDF) DoC.

Do marine reserves reduce fishing pressure overall?
When one area is closed, it increases the fishing pressure on the remaining area because the same number of fishermen have to make do with a smaller area and fewer fish. The question is whether the overall pressure (on closed + remaining area) reduces. Protagonists claim this is so, because:
Our 3000km2 of de-facto marine reserves should, by this logic have made a measurable difference. But where is the evidence?
For a complete explanation visit marine conservation/spillout.

Do marine reserves help fisheries?
Protagonists of marine reserves, claim that marine reserves do help fisheries in many ways, but this is not so, or at least very much less than is claimed. It is a hotly debated issue that has been dissected in detail in Seafriends/conservation/marine, but some of the main reasons are easily understood:

Our main commercial fisheries occur over the continental shelves where the main food source originates from plankton. When alive, these organisms either swim or use buoyancy control to remain suspended. But when they die, they either sink down or float up. Thus the two places where food collects are essentially the surface and the bottom of the sea. The sea thus consists of three main habitats:

A marine reserve is typically static, declared over a fixed area. It is thus principally unable to protect commercial fish species. What these need is protection that moves with them, such as fisheries regulations. But there are exceptions where commercial fish species remain fixed to their areas: mussels, scallops, crayfish. Area protection can protect these species.

The effectiveness of a marine reserve depends very much on its design, whereby size is of major importance. Fish inside must essentially stay inside and not wander out at every whim. So they must be able to feed and spawn there. Most marine reserves created so far, are just too small, or they do not join up the areas that fish find important.

Marine reserves do not have fences to keep fish in, thus their boundaries must be natural boundaries. If a reserve is too much connected with an unsafe area, then fish will leak out too much, and a reserve can become unsustainable such that fish stocks do not increase over time. The problem is that a reserve must be connected with other safe areas, for gene exchange to take place. Scientists claim that this is achieved by the free movement of their larvae, but this has not been proved. Furthermore, the mortality of larvae is very high (over 99.99%).

Fishermen claim that the fish they catch, the commercial species, are mainly migratory, which is largely true. These just wander through a reserve, to be caught once they leave it. They are not really part of the reserve community although they take residence there temporarily. Those species that are, however, are not threatened as much. But what fishermen overlook, is that some people fish with set nets, catching the reef fish that do belong to the reef community. What's more, rather than eating their catch, they use the fish to bait their craypots with. Marine reserves do benefit these species. However, due to the limited size of reserves, they do not protect sufficiently large populations to be sustainable.

Protagonists claim that fishermen reap more benefits from the reserve than they lose. This is not true, and has repeatedly been shown by scientific data, in many countries. It can also be proved from ecological principles [1]. The highest benefit ever measured arising from a marine reserve falls short of 35% of the lost fishery. Good reserves that also protect long-lived species, spill no more than 5% of the lost fishery. So a closed area leads to less fish caught overall, and an increase of fishing pressure overall.

[1] For a complete treatment, visit seafriends/marine conservation/larval dispersal.

Do we need networks of marine reserves?
Protagonists claim that we need networks of marine reserves. What they don't say is that they want to establish a fisheries management regime which is not controlled by fishermen but by ideologically driven conservationists, often those who do not relate to the sea, and have no practical experience with it. The network idea sounds plausible and feels good, so let's check it out.
The idea behind networks is that the larvae (and fish) of one marine reserve, dispersed by currents, are able to populate the next one downstream. In this manner relatively small reserves can exchange genes with other places. It would make their total population appear larger and more secure. More fish would be able to spill out, to the delight of fishermen. As more and more reserves are created, their connectivity in the network increases rapidily, as each reserve finds itself closer to some of the other ones. There are a few things wrong in this line of thought.
  1. It discounts the presence of larvae originating from the outside, which is a much larger area, albeit less densely stocked. Gene exchange will happen mainly with this unsafe area. Thus the next reserve downstream is not needed for this purpose.
  2. Increased fish spawn is not necessarily going to produce more offspring, since most of the fish eggs and larvae serve as food for other species. The biology and ecology of the plankton ecosystems is very much unknown.
  3. Many of our commercially fished species move towards spawning grounds, often located far outside any marine reserve. The nature and place of such spawning grounds is still unknown, vary from year to year or shift over time.
  4. It can be proved (see [1] above) that the total fish spilling out of a network of marine reserves, will still be a very small part of the lost fishery (30% for small, bad reserves and less than 5% for good, large reserves). See the reasoning in the Question above.
Conclusion: networks of marine reserves do not perform better than individual, widely spaced ones. The fishery does not benefit from increased spillover.

Are marine reserves needed because fisheries are failing everywhere?
It is claimed that marine reserves could help fisheries world-wide in essentially two ways:

By providing sample areas of pristine stock, fisheries managers can assess the level of the stock in relation to a full-baseline. Their target is to fish at Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY), which is dangerously close to Unsustainable Yield. However, this implies very large reserves, designed with minimal connectivity, while they should also be allowed to be fished for stock sampling. One of the problems with the world's fisheries is that stock sampling (scientific trawling) is not done enough, and fisheries models rely on catch quantities and catch per unit effort (CPUE) instead, which is highly unreliable. With this method they essentially regard each commercial fish trawl as a scientific fish trawl (with some 'corrections').

By protecting spawning fish stocks, it is hoped that more larvae make it to adult stage. However, fisheries managers have always been able to call for closed seasons and temporarily closed areas. To lock an area up permanently, would not serve the purpose, also because spawning grounds may move around, and they can be large (e.g. where warmer water is found).

The main reason scientists are looking at marine reserves for fisheries management, is never told: they have run out of ideas to control fishing in conventional ways. In fact, it can be shown that managed fisheries everywhere have failed because of scientists' failure to understand the marine environment which does not conform to computer models (aka bean counting). Ironically, the pro-reserve lobby also uses unproven computer models to prove their claims relating to spillover, larval dispersal, community structure and more. To illustrate this point, marine reserve proponents are now clamouring for zoning as reserves have shown not to work for fisheries [1].

Read the economies of exploitation in Seafriends/resource management/exploitation. and the arguments for X% of the sea in marine reserves: target sizes for marine reseerves.

[1] Newsletter of the World Ocean Observatory W2O: thew2o.net/newsletter.html (early 2007)

Should we have marine reserves where no threats exist?
This seemingly simple question is surprisingly difficult to answer. In first instance, one would say that it neither harms nor benefits the environment nor people. If there exists no threat, it means that few people are fishing it. But more importantly: what is the point? Are we willing to sacrifice freedom that easily? A father can suddenly no longer take his son fishing from the bridge or wharf. Marooned seamen cannot fish for life without trespassing the law. Elderly people on a benefit cannot fish for sustenance.

Protagonists reason that we should save pristine areas before they get damaged, and this is certainly true for the land, where private ownership invariably leads to deforestation, development and habitation. But the sea is different. Protagonists say that because nobody is using it, there won't be a fight getting it, which is true. But is that a good enough reason to give up a freedom?

We must, however, remember that certain areas in the sea, such as sea mounts, may suffer irreparable damage from trawling. In the deep sea, creatures grow very slowly, and those that have made it to standing height (like deep corals), must be very old indeed, and thus very precious and vulnerable. In such cases preventative conservation is necessary. In general, preventative conservation is necessary in areas of low productivity, where no other threats exist. The Kermadec Islands are a good example.

People often think that fishing is the only and worst threat, but this is not true for most of our coast. Degradation from mud and sewage threatens more species than does fishing, and it is getting worse very rapidly. It now threatens commercially fished species by as much as fishing does, and it threatens spawning and the success of spawning.

Read about shellfish collapses in NZ. - a most intimately controlled fishery.

Should we have marine reserves near cities?
Right in the middle of the busiest centres, one can find parks with flowers, and nobody picks them. These are a kind of voluntary reserves, appreciated and respected by all. Likewise, marine reserves right on many people's doorstep, would be appreciated by many and used intensively. However, they need to have clear water, and this is usually not the case near big cities. Wellington is an exception, being located along a coast with swift currents of clear water. It makes sense to have an extensive marine reserve there, however, the water there is rather cold.

Should we hurry into creating more marine reserves?
Protagonists for marine reserves have influenced the United Nations to accept a biodiversity strategy (to which New Zealand is signatory), which compels countries to implement marine reserve networks of representative areas, and the Labour Government has made it official policy to have 10% of our seas in marine reserves by 2010 (some say this includes MPAs, which include de-facto marine reserves and Mataitai).
The rationale for this is that marine reserves are thought to be the only suitable tool for conserving biodiversity in the sea. There is a lot wrong in this line of thought (see later), but it is easy to understand where haste comes from. The Forest&Bird protection society wants 20%, as does the Green Party.

The first marine reserve in NZ was created near Leigh in 1975, but it was opened in 1977. That is a quarter century ago, during which time another 15 marine reserves were created. In other words, less than one a year. At this rate it would take over a hundred years to achieve the above presented goals.

If it is true that fish larvae do not travel further than 100km, then marine reserves should be located no further than 100km apart (not proved). New Zealand's coastline is about 15,000km, which demands 150 marine reserves, spread evenly around. In order for a marine reserve to be sustainable, it should be sufficiently large. Experience has shown that 5-10 km2 is insufficient by far, and 50-100km2 is to be preferred, which surmounts to squares of 10km on edge. Such reserves are 20 times the size of that at Goat Island. By this reasoning, a marine reserve should extend for about 10km, spaced by 90km of open access, amounting to 10% of the coastline in 150 reserves, or 150 x 100 = 15,000km2. New Zealand's entire land area is 270,500km2. Our coastal reserves would thus amount to just over 5% of the land area.

To hasten this process, the Minister of Conservation has made NZ$12 million available to 'purchase' 40 marine reserves costing NZ$300,000 each. Madness?

There is no objection against marine reserves for specific purposes, such as for marine research. But to have them to protect biodiversity (UN resolution) is flawed. Protection of biodiversity is having sustainable populations of all species; not necessarily unexploited or pristine populations. Marine reserves are not the best tool for achieving this.

Read more about this in Seafriends/conservation/marine/sustainable networks.

what are good and bad practices for setting up marine reserves?
Unnecessary antagonism against marine reserves results from bad practices during the process of proposing and creating them. Unfortunately, Government Departments have learnt very little in the past. Here are the good practices: 

A transparent process where discussions and decisions are kept public, without hidden agendas, without foreclosed decisions and without political and ideological motivations. A process that is not rushed by tight deadlines, one where everyone has a say but where informed debate is encouraged and fostered by education rather than by rose-coloured propaganda followed by aggravation. A proposal that is well documented on what it wishes to achieve, justifying the biological and ecological consequences of various options, illustrated by photographs that are actually taken inside the area so that people can view the situation under water without being deceived. An honest discussion of the benefits but also the disadvantages, which should not need to be brought forward by objectors. Fostering a clear perception that everyone's input will make a difference, and will be worthwhile. A transparent decision procedure, the outcome of which can be appealed against without incurring high legal costs.

Does any of this resemble what is happening today in New Zealand or anywhere else in the world for that matter?

Also read Bob Earll: Working on a Common Agenda. 1999. Marine Forum. UK.

Have existing marine reserves been evaluated?
One would expect that before rushing into more marine reserves, our existing marine reserves would have been evaluated first regarding their effectiveness in achieving the expectations we have. But this has not been done. The situation is in fact quite disappointing. In order to achieve political objectives (marine reserves are successful), DoC has funded research into counting migrant species like snapper, blue cod and crayfish with a questionable method (the baited camera). 
Monitoring is usually begun before the establishment of the reserve, and continues until a positive difference can be shown. Then it is discontinued. In no case has a complete evaluation, like a bill of health, been completed for any of the reserves we have created. The best so far is found in the Seafriends website (Kermadecs, Goat Island, and growing) where a quality rating can be found for each marine reserve.

Even the first and most praised of marine reserves at Goat Island, has not been evaluated. While scientists have been busy monitoring the above mentioned species, they have been blind to the loss of many others, and the overall degradation of all habitats within the reserve. The bottom line is that we have learnt little from marine reserves in 25 years. We cannot expect this to improve in the foreseeable future.

It is also fair to say that no method has been developed for doing a marine ecological appraisal. The nearest effort is a species list, which bears little relevance to the health of the environment or whether it degrades or not.

In 2004 a number of important documents appeared. First DoC released monitoring results from their marine reserves, claiming that these showed that marine reserves were well worth having. However, a closer look at the data showed that DoC had been selective in its reporting, and that the opposite was indeed the case. For a complete rebuttal of this important aspect of marine reserves, read Myths11. The report shows that the management of our reserves and its monitoring leaves much to be desired, and that we already have more marine reserves than we can manage. Only reading is believing!

Secondly, scientists investigated the effect of marine reserves on plant communities and their grazers [1]. The effect of marine reserves was negligible, but the effect of water clarity and sediment cover proved overwhelming factors on the environment, many times larger than natural factors like depth and wave action. This gives firm support to our claims that marine reserves do not work for saving the environment as degradation from human activities is now wide-spread and decisive. One can no longer understand the marine environment if one does not understand degradation.

For this reason, we have now added a large section about degradation to our web site, a must-read for all who care.

[1] Shears NT, Babcock R C (2004): Indirect effects of marine reserve protection on New Zealand's rocky coastal marine communities. DOC Science Internal Series DSIS192.

How many reserves do we have and where?
The 16 (or so) marine reserves (excluding those created by the Min of Fisheries, which protagonists claim are not marine reserves) are roughly evenly spread around our coastline, but when drawn on a map of our country, they are too small to be seen. Visit the DoC web site or Seafriends/marine reserves.

Are protected areas created by Min of Fisheries marine reserves?
The Minister of Fisheries can create marine reserves, as can local and regional government. Protagonists of marine reserves do not recognise those created by MFish as such, even though these reserves enjoy the same degree of protection and continuity, and policing. In fact, fisheries enforcement officers have more powers and more experience than those of DoC. Only the marine reserves created by DoC are recognised as such. The rest are called marine parks. Logical?

There exists no good reason to have two types of marine reserve. Thus it makes sense to abolish the Marine Reserves Act altogether so that all means of protection for the sea can be brought under the umbrella of Fisheries. After all, a marine reserve is all about fishing - NO fishing.

Do marine reserves protect biodiversity?
The word biodiversity is difficult to grasp, because it covers a vast store of thought and knowledge. Should you wish to equip yourself with this knowledge, read Seafriends/conservation/biodiversity. A rough idea of biodiversity is all species, including plants, bacteria, viruses, pests, diseases and so on. 
Since the only thing a marine reserve does, is to stop fishing, a marine reserve makes a difference only to those species that are fished. Most of these are migrant, so a marine reserve does not even protect these. The tens of thousands of remaining species, have never been threatened by fishing, and a marine reserve does not make a difference to these either. Those species that are fished but which stay inside a marine reserve, do not reach sustainable populations, so a marine reserve does not protect their biodiversity either. So the bottom line is that a marine reserve does nothing for biodiversity. Remember that biodiversity is about sustainable populations of all species, which does not require that these have to be pristine or unexploited. Unexploited populations do not exist in the sea.

To make matters worse, the main threats to biodiversity are mud and sewage, and marine reserves do not protect against these. Thus coastal marine reserves do not protect biodiversity at all! This is a major fault in the thinking of many scientists, the United Nations, Governments and their many departments! The proposed Marine Reserves Act 2002 states as its only objective: to protect marine biodiversity! Madness?

Do we need to protect every habitat in order to protect biodiversity?
There exists great confusion worldwide as to what biodiversity and habitats are, as these ideas live mainly in our minds rather than out there in nature. Biodiversity is the 'confusion' of life, created in response to external factors. Change the factors, and life's biodiversity adapts likewise. So biodiversity is not a constant thing. Where humans change habitats, wildlife adapts, and remember that in the sea very little habitat has changed. There are exaggerated stories about trawler damage, but check it out for yourself in a deep dive to 30-60m. One sees only large ripples in the sand (megaripples); no trawl tracks. Remember the following that sums it all up:

We talk about habitats, we see and measure communities but we know little about how it functions.

There are only three main habitats: the open water, the (soft) sea bottom, and the hard shore. All other habitats are combinations and variations of these three. As species in one community also occur in other communities, we do not need to be concerned to protect all variations of habitats in order to protect biodiversity. Just some of the three main habitats in the various climate zones will do.

See also Introduction to marine habitats, which makes you understand what it means to live in the sea. Also the principles of the intertidal rocky shore.

Do marine reserves provide an insurance?
Protagonists often claim that marine reserves provide an insurance in case things go wrong. It sounds nice and feels good, but what does it mean? The idea is that even if all else fails (goes wrong) outside, the marine reserve would still be there to seed its species in the bared areas outside. Let's check this out.
When we think about insurance, we understand that we pay a little (premium) in order to expect a large payout (indemnity) when things go wrong. But marine reserves do not protect against large scale events such as damage from hurricanes, invasions of introduced species, oil spills, mass mortalities from poisonous plankton blooms, degradation by mud and sewage and so on, because these play havoc equally inside as outside marine reserves. What about global climate change, global warming, ultraviolet irradiation, industrial pollution and acid rain? So who wants to take out such an insurance?

Since no-take marine reserves affect only fishing, they may provide an insurance for fishing-related accidents. But this only relates to fished species that are resident, which is but a very small part of the total. Who wants to take out such insurance?

Suppose a marine reserve does indeed provide the larvae to restock the outside in case of a fishing related disaster, it would take a very long period before stocks  re-establish themselves, often more than ten years. During all that time, the fishery has to be discontinued. Who wants to take out such insurance, especially since better methods are readily available and already being practised? Is there anybody who believes that a protected sea mount hundreds of miles from a damaged one will repopulate it?

Obviously, the insurance argument is seriously flawed.

A very important aspect often overlooked by protagonists, is that marine reserves do not fix the causes of the problems in the sea. They change neither our behaviour nor our methods. They act like plasters here and there covering small parts of a large wound.

can marine reserves provide resilience against threats from pollution?
Marine reserves obviously do not stop pollution, oil spills, poisons and other threats from entering, but many people believe that a marine reserve is in a better position to recover afterwards. These people see the environment as a web or net where each organism is in some way connected to every other. Such a web when weakened by fishing, would be less strong (less resilient) to cope with any other threat, including that from land-based pollution. Unfortunately, this analogy is too simple.

difference between fishing and pollutionThe environment does not hang together like a net with nodes and strands of equal importance, but is shaped like a pyramid in which the base is formed by plant life: algae and plant plankton. The amount and quality of this base determines how many and which grazers can be found in the next tier. These in turn determine which and how many primary predators will live in the next tier, and so on through some five stages to the top level of tertiary predators of which many are the commercial fish species. Of course there are influences going down the pyramid but these are very much weaker, and the furthest levels have the least influence. Thus the very peak (apex) affected by fishing has a negligible effect on the base formed by plant life. This also explains that fishing has only a minimal effect on the marine environment.

However, for land-based pollution, the situation is entirely different because it attacks the lowest levels on which all other species depend. Thus the threat from land-based pollution is unlike that from fishing, severe and wide ranging. A marine reserve will in no way be more resistant to such a threat, as has clearly been borne out by New Zealand's marine reserves.

Often a collapse in the fish stock is attributed to overfishing when in fact this is caused by degradation. When, as the diagram shows, a bite is taken out of the bottom of the food pyramid, all tiers above shrink until a new but smaller pyramid is formed. To fishermen this appears indistinguishable from overfishing.

how serious is degradation?
chronic decline of fish at the Poor KnightsFor many reasons, degradation is not easily seen but scientists recently measured its effect by accident as shown on the diagram. We have some 17 coastal marine reserves, and the Poor Knights Islands, located far out in sea on the edge of the continental shelf, is certainly our best, still with the cleanest water of all. Yet we observed a sharp decline in the quantity and quality of fish since the late 1980s, followed by mass mortalities in 1983, 1992 and 2001 (see degradation timeline). After becoming a full marine reserve in 1998, DoC wanted to use it as desperately needed proof that marine reserves are working. Indeed the snapper densities increased as they also increased in non-reserve locations due to good spawning years before (not shown here) but hidden in the data were these graphs of the fish that normally belong at the Poor knights and reproduce there. These are not straglers from warmer or colder waters, and they are not migratory either.
What the curves show is the number of fish found in a transect the size of a tennis court, and these are all declining seriously. For instance, butterfish has declined more than ten-fold in only four years! Yet they have never been fished here! Notice how sweep (light blue) is making its debut at the Poor Knights where it normally does not belong, as it inhabits coastal waters such as around Kawau.
Seeing what is happening to the best of our marine reserves, it needs little imagination what the fate is of all others. Suppose these curves related to kiwi, kakapo, kaka, kea and so on, wouldn't there have been an outcry of indignation? If this is not serious, then what else is? Read our recent degradation chapter for more.

how can degradation be bad as bacterium species increase in number?
This is an oft touted argument by people who do not quite understand biodiversity. They say that degradation is just shifting the environment to something different but not necessarily worse. We cannot apply an objective measure of quality, they say, which is like saying that one bacterium species equals one elephant species. What is wrong with this kind of reasoning?

An elephant has much more genetic information in its genes, which took many hundreds of millions of years to evolve by trial and error. Thus both the amount of evolutionary time and the amount of genetic information in a species are objective measures of quality. Bacteria just do not come near. Besides, it takes only a few days to generate a new bacterium , and what's more, they can exchange genetic information readily by means of viruses. So the whole idea of species at the bacterium level becomes questionable.

These people say that a spoonful of mud contains X million of bacterium species, whereas a coral reef has only hundreds of fish species and corals. Not only does an enormous gap of quality exist between the two, but these people forget that each living higher organism, due to its shape, houses cavities (guts, gills, scales, etc) which are filled with host-specific parasites and commensals, each in turn with their own cavities of specific organisms and bacteria. Thus a rich environment has myriad selective compartments that add to biodiversity, whereas a putrid mud flat has not. When all this is taken into account, coral reef biodiversity exceeds that of putrid mud flats immensely. Degradation is definitely a path to worse.


Can marine reserves fail?
Most of the marine reserves in the world have indeed failed. 69% do not achieve their objectives (Kelleher et al 1995).  The Goat Island marine reserve is hailed internationally as the best success story, mentioned in one breath with the Galapagos Islands. This is only so because ambassadors for marine conservation have travelled the world with good-news propaganda, while hiding the real facts (see below and read Lessons from Leigh). What motivated those people to do so was their desire for NZ to lead the world in marine conservation. Indeed, much nonsense has been proclaimed in the race to outdo one another. Here in NZ the public suffers the same treatment. (Ironically, New Zealand is leading the world in soil erosion instead.)

In poor countries, marine reserves fail because of corruption, inadequate policing and subsistence fishing, a struggle for life (either my family dies or the fish). Where marine reserves are visited by overseas tourists, the pressure on fishing outside increases to unsustainable levels, in order to feed these visitors. Most reserves fail because they are too small. Particularly when reserves are small, their design becomes critical to their success (location, isolation from unsafe places, natural boundaries, etc). Once a reserve becomes successful, poaching becomes an increasing problem.

Most reserves fail because they address only one threat (taking), ignoring other threats (mud, sewage, poisonous plankton), which are often more damaging, while also impossible to remove. In NZ most reserves have failed for their failed design, location, mud and sewage and mass mortalities from poisonous or infectious plankton blooms.

What are the Five Myths of conservation and restoration?
By far most conservation and restoration projects both on land and in the sea have been disappointing or failed altogether. Scientists have begun to recognise the common causes of such failures, and some have had extraordinary courage to speak out [1]. Their observations completely match those presented on the Seafriends web site and they are summarised here:

[1]  Robert H. Hilderbrand, Adam C. Watts, April M Randle (2005): http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol10/iss1/art19/

The early Maori burnt large areas of forest - why is the European burn worse?
Forest burn by early Maori and EuropeansThis map shows how New Zealand forests disappeared in the course of history. First look at the light-grey areas. They are the natural barrens of New Zealand, consisting of ice, rock, dry grassland or low shrub. The olive coloured areas are those laid barren by the early Maori in their hunt for moas and while practising shifting agriculture. Most of this consisted of dry scrub land which burnt easily. By the time the Europeans arrived around 1840, the green and brown areas were still in native forest cover. With their steel technology of axes and saws, oxen and horses, carts and trolleys (later motorised) they were able to lay barren the stands of large trees marked in brown. 
Area for area, the Maoris burnt as much as the Europeans, which must have resulted in a similar amount of erosion and damage to our coastal seas, one would think. But Maoris did not practise large scale husbandry. Their barrens were not converted to pasture, but left to recover instead, to be burnt again at a later date. These practices did not affect the topsoil very much.
Typical soil degradationBy contrast, European farmers converted native bush of large trees with deep soils underneath to pasture and arable land. With their mechanised ploughs they were able to make substantial changes to soil structure. Under pasture, the hill country degraded until today it has reached epidemic scale, which is bound to happen after 50-100 years of use. This diagram shows how soils degrade after clearfelling the forest. Only fertilisation can halt the process, but not for hilly land. Once the soil passes the point of no return, it becomes almost impossible to salvage. Much of our coastline, clearfelled by possum damage, fits this category.
Problematic soils of NZAlthough erosion is a natural process, today's rate of erosion exceeds what is sustainable for our best soils by 3-5 times and for the worst soils by 30 times or more, and it is worsening rapidly under heavy downpours which are also a recent event. The mud plumes entering our seas today are very much larger than they have ever been. Recent estimates of soil loss amount to 300 million tonnes per annum (about 6 times what is sustainable and over 10 times what was natural), which is probably an underestimate. The map shows where our most problematic soils are located. Since digging machines, bulldozers and scrapers were used to flatten land for building, large areas of soil are laid entirely bare each year. On such barrens erosion is 6000 times larger than natural.
Note how many of our good, non-problematic soils are located in areas first cleared by Maori.

Why does sewage damage when treatment plants are so safe?
Sewage plants 'treat' the water by letting bacteria do their job in breaking our wastes down. Most organisms do not utilise more than 30% of their food, thereby passing 70% as waste. This needs to be broken down further, until it becomes natural fertiliser in the form of soluble salts (nutrients). At the end of the process, most sewage plants now sterilise the liquid, so that it becomes 'safe' to drink. Modern plants remove solids from around 300ppm to 10ppm, which reduces sedimentation near sewage outfalls.

The end product is always fertiliser (nutrients). This should be recycled back onto the land, but in the meantime, it has become too diluted, a problem inherited from the use of water for flushing (WC='Water Closet'). Thus the nutrients are pumped out to sea, and for reasons of cost, close to the shore. Here it fertilises the plant plankton, which blooms gratefully. Animal plankton eats the plant plankton, and this forms the beginning of the food chain, which feeds many of our commercial fish species. Thus sewage can be a good thing.

Where it goes wrong, is when nutrient concentrations and plankton concentrations become too high (eutrophication-= overnourishment). Then the balance of the plankton community is upset, and unpredictable things happen, such as poisonous nuisance blooms. Quite unpredictably, plankton can become poisonous, producing some of the most potent toxins known to Man. It poisons the food chain, and many organisms perish. Such could also be our fate.

Dense plankton blooms also obscure the light, and when underwater visibility reduces below 4m, the kelp bed dies. In 1993, this happened over a vast area north of the Hauraki Gulf, including the Goat Island marine reserve. We recently discovered that plankton  is naturally infectious to sea life because it also contains (fish-) wastes and decomposers, and that it can rapidly become a potent killer. Read the Plankton Balance Hypothesis.

In the years 1992-1995, and in 2001-2004, poisonous plankton has caused massive and often invisible mortality of all species, including fish. Right now (2001) many fish have gone missing: kahawai, blue maomao, trevally, koheru and many more. Because of the potency of this problem, and its rapid acceleration (before 1983 it was largely unheard of), we would be foolish not to heed its warnings.

Sewage and mud are also destroying our beaches, invisibly and almost unnoticeably. Read more at Seafriends/oceanography/disappearing beaches.

Only by saving the land, can we save the sea!

Why do I see little degradation on the intertidal rocky shore?
Cleansing effect of wavesMud and diatom strings need calm water before they can settle out. Waves (and strong currents) prevent this. But even when sediment has accrued over a period of calm weather, successive large waves have a cleansing effect. Near the surface it is the sheer force of the water movement which cleanses the rock and organisms. But also in the deep large waves pick up the sand and cleanse the substrate and organisms by scouring them as in sand blasting. In between these zones, the environment is most affected by sedimentation and its devastating effects. Where shelter is found, such as in deep rock pools and undersea caves, sediment accumulates easily. It is here that the first casualties occur.

Is the Goat Island marine reserve a success story?
Goat Island has been a reserve effectively since 1977. In that era, exploitation was the main problem and scientific research the main reason for having a marine reserve. After a good run up to the 1990s, the reserve enjoyed both a healthy growth in fish populations and visitors (up to 120,000 per year). 
The reserve suffers from a large number of problems, which prevented it from ever reaching pristine stock levels, or a baseline as scientists call it. You can study this in Seafriends/conservation/lessons from Leigh  and you can make a virtual visit to this reserve at Seafriends/reserves/Goat Island.

But since 1990 a new problem presented itself. Rains became heavier and the surrounding land eroded heavily, also because it was starved of fertiliser (In 1986 the Government abolished the subsidy on fertiliser). The waters became murky and mud caused stress and death to many species. In 1998, 85% of all crayfish walked out, and their stock has stayed low. The reserve is now degrading rapidly. Recently, DoC prohibited the feeding of fish, and since then visitor numbers have plummeted as fish also disappeared. End of a success story!

Remember that this used to be the clearest water nearest to Auckland, located along a coast with a very small rain catchment area, and large tracts of sand dunes bordering it. It is not difficult to imagine what is going on elsewhere in New Zealand coastal seas and other marine reserves that are less fortunate.

Study Seafriends/soil/erosion and Seafriends/soil/soil NZ to get a grip on these new problems facing our nation. It may also help to understand what makes New Zealand so special: Seafriends/oceanography/special NZ.

Can we learn from situations overseas?
With much caution, we can learn from experiences overseas. For instance what could you learn from a wildlife park in Zimbabwe that is of use for saving our kiwi? Not much. Likewise, a success recorded from a tropical situation is most likely not of any use here. However, it is quite surprising that protagonistic scientists do not exercise such care. For instance, a success with the closure of a fishing ground in Canada is hailed as proof that marine reserves do work in New Zealand. Likewise a success in a pinprick tropical marine reserve in Fiji, obtained not by the presence of the reserve but by fisheries regulation,  is hailed as proof that they will work here.

Since humans are predisposed to believe in myths, propaganda must be suspected in all good news. Makers of documentaries often make them to achieve a political outcome, which they can achieve not by lying, but merely by not mentioning unwanted facts and opposing views. For instance, in the entire literature about marine reserve, not a word is mentioned about the detrimental effects from runoff from the land and how this renders marine reserves useless.

Unfortunately, at the moment at least, too much scientific work is politically driven, while equally politically-driven Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have hi-jacked the decision making process. It is sad that our opportunities to learn from others has been compromised.

The pro-reserve lobby has indeed made such a mess of available information that we must insist that we only consider facts proved in our own locality (New Zealand). Even here the quality of research on the benefits of marine reserves is highly coloured and inaccurate. At least we can verify scientists' statements about our own marine environment. Citing successes from overseas is no longer acceptable. Study the poor quality of marine reserves science done here in New Zealand.

Why is so much wrong with marine reserve science?
True science aims to protect itself from fallacies and myths, wrong measurements and wrong conclusions. Rigid procedures are in place such as reproducible experiments, peer review and international publication. Furthermore, it is the duty of every scientist to doubt what he thinks [2]. So how can anything go wrong in the discipline of marine reserve science?

The problem does not only relate to marine reserves but mainly to the discipline of marine ecology of which marine reserves are a small part. Bluntly put, marine scientists do not have the foggiest idea of what is going on out there. Why? It is a puzzling question.

The answer must be found in the complexity of the marine environment and our inability to spend long hours there. But the very nature of the scientific experiment, as laid down by Francis Bacon [1] must also be blamed. In the end, scientists themselves cannot but shoulder most of the blame. Let me explain.

Ecology is a complicated study of living things and how they interact, and how in doing so, they change their environment to suit the survival of a community of organisms which all depend on one another. Add to that some freeloaders, and the situation becomes rather complicated. Ecology essentially takes the experiment out of the laboratory, often in such a way that no controlled experiments can be done (before/after, with/without, inside/outside, etc) or can be repeated elsewhere in the world (here/there). This did not deter terrestrial ecologists, because they were at the same time naturalists who tramped the forests and spent most of their lives amongst the vegetation and animals. They did good science just by observing and wondering, culminating in impressive works towards the end of their lives.

The problem with marine scientists is that preciously few are also marine naturalists, diving very frequently on their own accord from own funds for sheer pleasure and for observing and wondering. Add to this that it takes over two decades before one can see order in the apparent confusion that nature presents. Then add many more years before one can read nature's signals the way an aboriginal tracker can. In other words, to become a discerning marine naturalist is a long path of sacrifice and cost, but also one of immense satisfaction. Serious naturalists cannot only gauge a situation accurately, but they are also privy to a glimpse of the future from the trends they observe. In doing so, they may forge ahead of science by one or more decades.

I have followed this path since 1968, and since 1990 full-time. I have learnt to read the messages of nature although there is still so much to learn. I base my knowledge on what scientists say, able to verify every bit. It is here that I have come to disagree with many scientists and the research they do. These people try to fathom the environment by using junior divers to measure arbitrary features, and then behind their desks, deriving far-reaching conclusions that are plainly wrong. In this web site you will find many examples of this.

Let me illustrate their blindness. In 1991/92 massive fish mortality occurred over large areas, left unnoticed. In 2001 this happened again, unnoticed. In oct/nov 1998 over 85% (a four times reduction) of crayfish walked out of the marine reserve due to the massive ingression of mud. Two groups of scientists were working with crayfish at the time and did not notice, even though I personally notified the Establishment twice. I was met with derision, and mud is still not accepted as the cause, neither do they accept 1998 as the year that it happened. A large burrowing heart urchin (Brissus gigas) lives in their thousands right under the Laboratory. Their markings in the sand are large and clearly visible, yet nobody had noticed them. In the late 1990s, the Goat Island Road was upgraded in an environmentally unfriendly way. Hundreds of tonnes of mud slipped into the reserve, displacing and killing organisms. Yet nothing was done about it. The Leigh marine reserve has been degrading badly. Scores of organisms are missing or have declined in numbers. Yet nobody noticed. Twelve of 16 marine reserves are degrading badly. Nobody noticed. And so on.

experimental, review and theoretical studiesBut the situation is worse still. Some of that Establishment have become vocal protagonists for the marine reserves lobby, believing so much in their cause that they have twisted the facts in favour of a rosy picture. It must be noted that none of these people actually dive, let alone qualify as marine naturalist. Worse still, this disease has spread worldwide, and one can now wade through thousands of publications of thousands of researchers, most of which are based on opinion, seeded with words like marine reserves can and could and would and may and have potential to. Lacking all necessary proof, they have resorted to unverifiable computer models depicting what should or may happen. They are of course not alone in this kind of optimism. UFOlogy and scientology thrive similarly. What they have achieved is that a whole discipline in marine science can no longer be trusted, which is an important message for the public.
The graph shown here is from an excellent introspective article (burdens of proof in PDF, 260KB) that examines the marine reserves scientific literature, concluding that by far most of it is review or opinion (including computer model studies). Of the small amount of fact, most is flawed by insufficiently robust experimental design. Empirical field studies (solid circles), reviews and notes (open circles), theoretical studies and computer modelling (triangles). In the authors' own words:  "it is apparent that much of their raison díêtre is advocacy for the establishment of marine reserves in parts of the world that lack them, rather than real attempts to contribute to the science of the field. The difference between science and advocacy in this field is becoming increasingly blurred (Polunin 2002), and we may soon be in the unusual situation of being faced with a greater number of reviews than there is reviewable material." Read also Myths and fallacies 6.

[1] Bacon, Francis (1561-1626), was an English philosopher, essayist, jurist, and statesman.  He was one of the earliest and most influential supporters of empirical (experimental) science and helped develop the scientific method of solving problems. Bacon prescribed the scientific method wich made experimental science great. However, ecology does not fit in because the environment is too large to take inside the laboratory. So other scientific methods are needed, of which the scientific community is unsupportive.
[2] Read Science, technology and human nature www.seafriends.org.nz/issues/probl/science.htm for a discourse on knowledge.

Will more research improve the quality of our marine reserves?
One would say that the more we know, the better equipped we are to create marine reserves that work or to do what is necessary to save the sea. However, in 25 years, no real progress has been made in this respect. To the contrary, our 'knowledge' has been dominated by myths and fallacies created by marine scientists who do not actively dive, but who believe strongly in their cause. It has confused our knowledge, and misdirected research efforts. There is clear evidence that knowledge of marine ecosystems is seriously lacking. Only by changing the present mind-set, can we hope to make progress.

To make matters worse, we have been creating rigid legislation, which does not meet the adaptability that the environment requires. We have failed to inaugurate local management committees which can respond quickly to the day-to-day needs, and changing conditions (like improved knowledge), managing the marine reserve's budget as well. We have failed to harness local knowledge and experience and that of the people who work with the sea from day to day.

Since any group or person can make a reserve proposal, the process has become fragmented, lacking overall vision and strategic approach. More knowledge does not appear to improve this. Every new reserve is created with the same design shortcomings as the very first, as if we haven't learnt at all.

How many marine reserves are needed?
We should not have marine reserves for the sake of having them. It is not about quantity but about quality. Marine reserves are of no use at all, unless they work and achieve their objectives. Such objectives do not necessary need to be environmental. A marine laboratory needs an area to do research. Schools need undisturbed places to do rocky shore and soft shore studies. Migratory sea birds need relays to feed and regain strength. Divers need places to look at the best nature can offer, and so on. If a marine reserve is needed, then it must stand or fall by its merits. People have no problems with that.

What we must always remember, is that we won't have many bites of the apple. Marine reserves are a gift of the people to the people, hopefully for future generations. As they take the rights of many away, they must be chosen and designed with care. People must understand why. It is a gradual and educational process in which political expediency has no place, neither has cheating, nor fast-tracking.

Dr Bill Ballantine claims that 10% of the sea is a moral minimum. 1600 marine scientists signed a call for 20% of the seas to be protected by the year 2020 [1]. Many others claim higher proportions (30-50%) in order to prevent fishery collapses [2]. Why are their claims so high and so conflicting?
All these claims are based on studies using computer models, bearing out that marine reserves do too little to make much of a difference, hence one needs many of them. Ironically, these scientists condemn fisheries management models as: fish having become particles within homogeneous seas that are fished randomly by unthinking fishers. Yet the models they use suffer from the same problems: fish having become unthinking random particles that disperse randomly. It is an indictment of science that these studies are being accepted so uncritically. Blinded by the only hammer they have, these scientists try hard to use this one and only conservation tool for solving all marine problems, thereby losing sight of the most obvious: let's get fishing right and let's save the land.

[1] Troubled waters; a call to action: a consensus statement backed by 1600 scientists and conservationists. This used to be found on the www.mcbi.org web site, but has been safeguarded to www.seafriends.org.nz/issues/cons/statemt.htm. Also read other scientific consensus statements here. Scientists appear to resort to consensus statements when they want to achieve a political objective for which they do not have sufficient evidence.
[2] Read our chapter on computer modelling studies to determine the target sizes of marine reserve systems (target.htm)

On land we have more than 10% of protected areas and national parks, why not in the sea?
The problem here is like comparing apples with pears, or worse. The marine environment is essentially and totally different from the terrestrial environment [1]. Our national parks are, almost without exception, useless tracts of land which are inaccessible and unproductive. One cannot get there or live there. Conservation was an accident. By contrast, the sea is valuable, easily accessible and productive everywhere. Marine conservation is a deliberate act of care.

In private ownership, land is threatened by deforestation, development and habitation, which leads to an irreversible ecological change. Saving some before such things happen, makes good sense. However, this is not so in the sea: we do not live there, burn the kelp forests, rip the soil for farming, or build motorways. The sea has largely been spared this kind of ecological rape.

Our terrestrial conservation estate (except for a few islands), is still threatened by invasive and predatory species, and is not safe for our native wildlife. It is poor conservation estate. By comparison, the sea has only few introduced species.

Our sewage and pollution does not run uphill to soil our National Parks, but it runs into the sea, which has become the sump of civilisation. This is the sea's foremost problem.

Thus there exists no compelling reason to have X% of the sea in marine reserves because Y% of the land is protected. This is false logic. Unbelievably, it has become Government policy (Biodiversity strategy).

[1] It is unimaginable how much the sea differs from the land. To get a grip on this, read Seafriends/cons/biodiversity/marine and what it means to live in the sea in Seafriends/enviro/habitat intro.

Do marine reserves create great fishing spots?
It is thought that inside marine reserves, the fish become more numerous and older (larger). This is true, and has been measured repeatedly in many places. In the first few years after closure, the fished species recover. However, depending on the reserve's connectivity with unsafe terrain (leakage), fish leak out. Old fish (trophy fish) are better spawners, so losing them is not a good idea. Although this is caused by a shortcoming of the reserve, it is sold to fishermen as a benefit.

Fishing cannot be done inside a marine reserve, of course, so it must be done at its boundaries. Unfortunately, because fishermen believe in this, fishing pressure becomes so high so close to the marine reserve, that small marine reserves cannot work because of it. It has been measured that the benefit of spillover, is no more than 35% of the lost fishery, and usually much less. An increase this small, spread over an increased number of takers, results in no appreciable benefit to each. Experienced fishermen say that it is a waste of time to fish close to a marine reserve boundary.

Why do fish spill out of a marine reserve?
Fish cannot read maps. They do not know where a safe area begins or ends. The only clue they have is that it is safe where a lot of fish are found (humans do so too). Helping safety in numbers, is one reason why feeding the fish inside a protected area is not a bad idea. There exists a vast difference between migratory and resident species. Migratory species move in and out frequently.

Resident species invariably maintain a territory, which they defend against competitors. On fish prime real estate (usually in shelter or currents, archways and caves), the pressure is high and territories are small. When young fish grow up, they find a place on prime real estate hard to get, so they are pushed to lesser territory or empty territory. Outside the reserve and near its boundaries, exists a lot of empty territory, so the young ones move there. Then they get caught. Fish diffuse (driven by the difference between full and empty) out of a safe area.

Many fish need a lot of space, not for territory, but a place to sleep, an area to feed, a spawning ground and so on. Schooling fish make almost fixed rounds from morning to evening, over appreciable distances, while adjusting to the timing of the tidal currents. If such places are not part of the reserve, which is often the case, they spill over on a daily basis. Then they get caught.

It is not clearly understood what the spatial requirements are for the various fish species. Even prime real estate is not clearly understood, or daily migrations.

Many fish spawn or bask in warm waters, often found elsewhere. Then they are caught.

Protagonists make a great deal of fish spilling out and thereby benefiting fishermen. In the studies they quote, fish are tagged inside a protected area and then recaptured outside, often appreciable distances away (like 200km). Such studies are false because they did not tag fish outside, to recapture them inside. In other words, they assume that the tagged fish were born inside. If fish are tagged inside and outside and recaptured inside and outside, a different picture emerges, that of fish moving into the protected area and then 'disappearing', as if protected areas are fish sinks. Predators perhaps find food easier to find inside protected areas.
The main thing to remember is that most commercially fished species move around and the tag-and-recapture studies show just this and no more. Marine reserves do not influence their migrations and do not protect them.

Are fish larvae spilling out?
Most fish are broadcast spawners (a lot of egg and sperm in open water). Others (very few species and numbers, and usually the small ones) guard their eggs until they hatch. In all cases, the larvae have to go to the open water to feed on minuscule plankton organisms. As they grow, they change their diets to match their mouths. A 2mm snapper larva grows 125x to 10mm, then 125x to 50mm, then 125x to 250mm. Before it can be caught, it has grown over a million times in weight (humans grow 20-30 times their birth weight). There comes a moment that a juvenile leaves the plankton to settle on the ground, or form a school. That is when it is called a recruit. Only very few of the brood make it so far, and many more will die as they grow further.

Once an egg or a larva or a small fish is in the open water, it drifts where the water takes it, usually outside the reserve. So they all spill out. Conversely, others spill into the marine reserve. Because marine reserves have more and bigger fish, more of their larvae will spill out than in. However most commercial species move out of a reserve in order to spawn, and fish larvae are but a small part of the total spawning mass from nearly every species (seasquirts, sponges, worms, sea stars, crabs, fish, etc). Those species that move little but eat much (barnacles, sea urchins, sea lice, oysters, mussels, etc) produce disproportionately more spawn. It could be said that the main purpose of spawning in the sea, is to make food (99.99%), rather than offspring (0.01%). In all, the situation is quite complicated, and scientists have not been able to prove that marine reserves indeed produce more (commercial) fish larvae, let alone recruits. It must also be noted that the area outside is very much larger, contributing much more to the spawning mass, even though fish densities there are lower. Also many exploited species swim out of a marine reserve to spawn elsewhere. Their recruits do not settle down randomly but have a preference for certain sheltered places that may not be part of any marine reserve.

The intricacies of plankton ecosystems and the role fish larvae play, is totally unknown to such an extent that simple assumptions may prove to be entirely wrong.Why scientists keep hammering the larval dispersal argument shows that they believe more than they should. The reason that so far no scientific proof has been produced may well mean that the arguments are flawed for reasons yet unknown. What is wrong with leaving more fish in the sea? It is such a simple alternative!

What is the thistledown effect?
Thistles are invasive weeds, quick growing, fast seeding plants which propagate over vast distances by the shape of their seeds. These bulk up by a network of fine hairs, so that they can be carried by the wind. It is amazing to find them crossing the sea for 40km, to arrive at a remote island. The fluffy seeds are called thistledown.

Marine organisms have a similar advantage, because their eggs and larvae are carried in the water, while sea currents transport them far away (however, most currents go to-and-fro). Fish larvae can travel 50-100km, and 'stragglers' may arrive from warm waters, 1000km away. The thistledown effect is claimed to give marine reserves a disproportionately large advantage as a source of tiny colonisers, acting like an insurance. It is reasoned that even a small reserve can produce a lot of larvae, an acceptable assumption because fish there are about twice as numerous and a bit larger than outside, producing three times more eggs. Large fish can produce over a million eggs each, by far enough to restock the entire outside, one may think.

However, this is not how nature works in the sea. A vast overkill in larvae (from all species and phyla) is needed to convert the energy of the sun into parcels of energy (little fish) that are large enough for sizeable fish to eat. This happens in stages, which we call the food chain or food web. Thus a predator fish in the end, lives from food produced by its own eggs. It illustrates nature's intricate system of harmony between its many players, and it explains why so many sea creatures are broadcast spawners, wasting almost all their eggs in reproduction. It is a survival strategy that, although wasteful for each, is beneficial for all. It can be said that fish spawn mainly to make food (99.99%) rather than offspring (0.01%). Fisheries scientists, accounting only for some fish species, while believing that a low stock is able to produce enough offspring, apparently are ignorant of the intricacy of such food chains. This is probably one of the main reasons that fisheries worldwide collapsed, even when managed intensively. If we wish to save commercial fisheries, we must manage them with larger stocks. Marine reserves would simply not help. The thistledown effect is a myth, lacking scientific proof and foundation.

Do marine reserves produce more spawning mass?
Because inside a marine reserve more and larger (commercial) fish are found, their spawn mass increases. However, the total spawning mass of the reserve decreases because there is less from the prey species that the larger fish feed on. Because of the 8-10 fold loss in energy between food and feeder, a substantially smaller overall amount of spawn results.

Do marine reserves recruit more fish than outside?
It is thought that new recruits drop out of the plankton without preference for where (randomly). Assuming this is true, a marine reserve will receive as many newcomers as outside, per area. But inside the reserve there are more and larger predators (which has been demonstrated), thus their survival chance is less than outside. Marine reserves do not produce more recruits.

However, recruits may settle in preferential areas such as shallow sheltered places (which has been observed), and marine reserves can be designed to include these places. Many species recruit inside estuaries.

Do scientists benefit from marine reserves?
Scientists claim that they do. A marine reserve protects their experiments. But they need permission from reserve managers in order to do such experiments, even when no harm is done. Scientists need to be able to harvest organisms to study them in the lab. Thes are killed while being dissected. So scientists are not completely at ease with no-take regulations. They complain about the time it takes to obtain permission. Sometimes a research must be done quickly in response to an external event. The lesson is that scientific reserves must be managed with more flexibility.

There is no reason that much research conducted inside the marine reserve could not have been done outside. Doing it near the Marine Lab is just convenient. However, protagonists claim that all research conducted inside, was possible only inside a marine reserve, which is not true. The fact is, that more and more research is being done outside.

Scientists hope to use marine reserves as baselines for comparing other areas with (fished/nonfished, trawled/nontrawled). However, this has not eventuated because marine reserves so far are too small, and also because one place can differ considerably compared with another. For instance, Goat Island and the Poor Knights are so special, that they cannot be compared with other places. Yet protagonists often do not make this distinction!

Would more marine reserves make Goat Island less visited?
One of the main reasons for having more reserves, is the success of Goat Island. It can be very crowded there on a sunny summer weekend. By having more reserves, it is reasoned, the pressure will be taken off Goat Island, but this is not true. People travel a long way to get there, bypassing the Long Bay marine reserve at Auckland's boundary, and then the Tawharanui marine reserve, 10km short of Goat Island, where one never sees people in the water with snorkel and mask. Why?

The reason is that Goat Island is a special place, with safe swimming, clear water and a lot of interesting underwater habitat. The fish agree. It has good access too, right to its centre. There is no other place further from or nearer to Auckland, with these characteristics. So, no matter how many reserves are created nearer to the City, people will still pass them by, in favour of Goat Island. Furthermore, if Goat Island loses its attraction (by degrading further), there still won't be another place like it anywhere else.

Marine reserves cause the kelpbed to expand and sea urchins to disappear. Is this true?
This has become the hottest issue in the debate about marine reserves in New Zealand. Here is the story:

Scientists have seen the kelp settle on urchin habitat (barrens), and these disappeared at two reserves (Goat Island, Tawharanui) but not at four other reserves (Poor Knights, Long Bay, Hahei, Mayor I). They see barrens on the east coast of the North Island but not on the west coast. Snapper are found more so on the east coast (not true). They have found some snapper with urchin spines in their stomachs. The conclusion is: marine reserves protect snapper and crayfish (big predators). They become more numerous and bigger too. They eat more and bigger urchins, who eat kelp. Therefore there are less kelp-eating urchins and the kelp returns, which is better for the environment. There is more diversity and more biomass or productivity.

Unfortunately, this story amounts to the worst scientific work done in this country, for the following compelling reasons:

In 1998 at age 21, 85% of the crayfish walked out, and their stocks diminished further to less than 5%. By the above reasoning one can say: all marine reserves will lose their crayfish after two decades, while this won't happen elsewhere. Yet children do not learn this at school as it is kept hidden from the public. Scientific madness?

What is the real urchin story?
We have been studying the rocky shore ecology for over 15 years, and by being in the water at many places, over a thousand dives, have obtained a clear picture of what the real story is. We stand very strong in our assertions, which arise from intimate observations, while we saw it happen
It started with a study of the extent of the kelp death, and thus the dense plankton blooms that caused it. Should you be interested in more detail, read our discoveries in Seafriends/enviro/habitat/survey93. From that point in time, the following happened: Thinking that urchins live in intimate relationship with kelp and predators, scientists overlooked the most important factor in the urchin ecology: storms. Not urchins create the barrens, but storms do, although urchins may create a barren pocket here and there. We have found plenty of evidence of this, since we dived after every major storm to see what had changed. Once the barren zone has been created, urchins are capable of maintaining it, also because recruiting kelp can be checked before it reaches maximum growth rate. Interestingly, urchins do not need to be present in barren zones. We discovered many barren zones without urchins. Other species also assist in keeping the barrens bare. More importantly, we have not had a major barren-creating storm, perhaps since 1977. But once another one arrives, the barrens will be recreated, widening again with each successive storm, whether located inside marine reserves or not. Then again, we may have entered a new climate era with fewer large storms and a major influence from degradation. Read the results of our own studies in habitat/survey93.

We have challenged scientists to have a look at nearby Kawau Island and Little Barrier Island, where urchin barrens were also overrun by kelp, but they have not done so. Why?

Is it better to have more kelp?
For over a quarter century, scientists have maintained that the barren zones, are more productive than the kelp forest. Analogies can be found on land, where the short grass (barrens) is more productive than the forest. If it were not, we could not have produced enough food for ourselves, let alone for export. This reasoning is ecologically sound for the following reasons:
Within a very short time, scientists have suddenly reversed this logic, claiming that the larger biomass of kelp is more productive, and that kelp shelters whatever lives below, leading to higher biodiversity. Where is the proof? It is not supported by ecological principle. It is bad science.
In 2005 the masses of kelp became sick, rotting on their stalks, as their grazers were insufficient in numbers. The rotting kelp affected other organisms like a rotten apple in the fruit bowl. The Goat Island marine reserve is now indeed a sad sight (2006). Anyone diving or snorkelling here can easily observe the many kelp plants that do not feel slimy, which is a sign of ill health and death.

Is there a need for a Marine Reserves Act?
Back in the 1960/70s, scientists were suspicious of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) because of the many failing fisheries at the time. What they wanted was the security of law for a protected area for scientific research. Thus the Marine Reserves Act 1971 was born. 
What they did not sufficiently consider, was its unnecessary complexity, due to duplication and linkage with other acts, and enforcement. What they also did not realise, was that marine reserves should be an integral part of fisheries management, such as local management, temporary closures, regulation of methods, gear, minimum sizes and catch quantities. The Fisheries Act already allows the Min of Fisheries to set aside protected areas, as has been demonstrated in several reserves ('marine parks'). In fact, MFish now controls more marine conservation estate than DoC, in the form of protected sea mounts, and other types of reserve. See Seafriends/marine reserves. Over time the marine reserve concept was extended to that of protecting the environment, and later for protection of biodiversity, using the same Act, for which it was never intended.

Thus the time has come to abolish the MRA1971 altogether and to place all marine reserves under one umbrella of the Fiseries Act. It just makes good sense, while also being cheaper, less complicated, better enforceable, more flexible and an affordable legacy for our children. The same should happen to the Marine Mammals Conservation Act.

Is the Department of Conservation the best guardian of marine reserves?
Judging by their performance over the past 25 years, DoC may not be the right department for managing marine reserves. It does not have the expertise and presence, like divers and fishermen do. It is condemning that they have been responsible for so many failed marine reserves in the very badlands of our seas, and that they continue to push for more like it.

However, where they have a remote presence, such as on the Kermadecs, they may well be in a better position to manage those particular areas.

The best guardians of a marine reserve are the locals, who know it intimately, know its history, use it on a day-to-day basis, and who can act swiftly, driven by common sense, two attributes found missing with DoC. However, DoC has consistently resisted the formation of such local management committees, and will not hand the management budget over either. As a result, local communities do not get the benefits they deserve, and public money is wasted on impractical solutions. For examples of what is typical, read Seafriends/conservation/Lessons from Leigh.

Can concessions control problems inside a marine reserve?
In land reserves, DoC has established a system of concessions 'to control activities in protected areas'. Commercial operators have to surrender a percentage of revenue, which amounts to quite high a percentage of profit (profit= revenue less costs) which is then recovered from mainly overseas tourists. DoC wants to introduce this system for marine reserves (see MRA2002). However, the situation here is quite different:
These are good reasons to resist the introduction of marine concessions. However, one of the severest problems facing most marine reserves worldwide, is that of obtaining finance. Once finance fails, the reserve becomes ineffective because rangers cannot be paid, signs and markers maintained and so on. So who should pay for its upkeep? This depends on the reasons for having one, and on who are using it most:
Does the public have access to marine reserves?
Not everywhere in the world do people have access to marine reserves. In Spain, for instance, scientific reserves are closed to the public. Access to other marine reserves there, is controlled by the police (Guardia Civil). In NZ the Marine Reserves Act 1971 has enshrined the principle of free access and innocent passage
This means that anyone can enter any marine reserve for any activity that does not compromise the environment. Innocent passage guarantees fishermen to be able to pass through marine reserves, launch their boats from, and so on, while having their fishing gear on board and even fish caught elsewhere. The public should ensure that such rights of freedom are not compromised, as they are in the Marine Reserves Bill 2002.

How should marine reserves be managed?
A vast amount of literature exists on how reserves should be managed. The following principles apply:
For a coastal marine reserve, which is strictly a local resource, there must be a local management committee who manages the reserve's daily and seasonal needs. This committee must have control over the entire reserve's budget. To read more about this, visit Seafriends/conservation/resource management/management.

What are our main problems in managing the seas?
Do you care?Every part of our coast has its unique set of problems, but in general the following can be said:
  • Close to urban populations, sewage is the main problem, then mud, then fishing.
  • Where large rivers flow into the sea, mud (sediment) is the main problem, then fishing. This is worse for catchment areas with poorly managed hill country, and worse still, if such catchment areas are large.
  • Further out to sea, where the water clears up, fishing is the main problem. Recently poisonous plankton blooms have become a substantial problem in these areas.
  • The problems created by mud and sewage are increasing rapidly, which is not easily understood. Apparently our continental shelves become saturated, where once we thought they would lose their sediment and nutrients to the open and deep ocean.
To save our coastal seas, we must save the land first and find solutions to sewage disposal in the sea. Marine reserves cannot be of any help. Our nation is insufficiently aware of the looming ecological disaster, should the present trend continue. Time is running out. Rather than spending millions of dollars on spreading and propagandising the green and clean message, the Government should take action before it is too late. We are fortunate enough to live on the side of the globe with the least number of people, but in recent years, the threats thought to belong to more populous areas, have found New Zealand, and more threats are still to come.

Familiarise yourself with Seafriends/enviro/soil/ to understand the huge problems facing us due to loss of soil fertility and erosion, in which we appear to lead the world. Judging by the messages that the sea gives us, we cannot wait any longer. Our estimates point to the situation worsening three-fold within each decade. Read our new degradation section.

How is the situation overseas?
The bad environmental news by and large, does not reach New Zealand. Because changes are generally slow, they do not become newsworthy at any given point in time, and they do not affect us personally. For our nation, it is therefore easy to believe that elsewhere, it is business as usual. Because this space is too small to elaborate on the world's (marine) problems, please visit Seafriends/issues/threats.

I can't escape the conclusion that we have been deceived. Is this true?
Yes, you have been misled. Not by people deliberately wishing to cause harm, but by do-gooders who believe too strongly in certain causes and solutions, without realising that the situation has changed rather suddenly. We have seen arm-chair conservationists, who never dive in or work with the sea, travel around the globe spreading fairy tales about marine reserves. 
We have seen scientists surrendering their reasoning and objectivity to believing strongly instead. We have seen scientists demonstrate their ignorance of the sea. Once they can no longer take the experiment into the laboratory, they appear to have lost the plot. It is about time to make room for common sense.

What is Seafriends' position on marine reserves?
Seafriends is the most committed group fighting to save our seas. The first Marine Conservation and Education Centre was established in Leigh in 1990, starting its work in 1992. We saw how the sea suffered and how rapidly this became worse, far earlier than anyone else. We then set out to find answers that nobody could give us. In the process, we created an environmental learning resource on the Web, second to none, and the fight continues.

We soon observed that marine reserves can fail and that most (if not all) of these do, and will not deliver. We took notice of the nonsensical reasoning that has sprouted amongst conservationists. Our main concern is to do the right thing for the right reason, at the right time. An equal concern is that we must leave the sea in a similar or better condition than we borrowed from our children. For that purpose, fallacies and myths must be stamped out. We must be strictly honest in order to be able to make the right decisions. We cannot afford to steer by a faulty compass. We must not saddle our children with unbearable burdens of ideas and laws that do not work. We must not create false expectations. We must not take their freedoms. We know that many countrymen will support us in this process, for aren't we all facing the same future? Seafriends is not against marine reserves, but we want them to work and to deliver on our expectations. Who doesn't?

The main battle ahead will not be about dividing the cake (traditional rights and who gets what), or even about setting some cake aside (marine reserves), but about making more cake (saving our seas and changing fishing practices). Since the main threats now come from the land, we have to save the land first in order to save our seas. Marine reserves are no longer important, because where they would be needed most, they can no longer work. In the meantime, time is running out. The sea is worsening rapidly as we are also losing our most precious soils and beaches. What a waste of time to talk about marine reserves now.

How can I help?
Unfortunately, nobody can tell you what to do, for society does well when each of us does what he/she does best. The first step is to become aware, then to become informed. Then you will see where your place is, how you can help best. You cannot sit on the sideline, just to watch, because our generation has done so much wrong, that in effect, we have stolen from our children, being unable to give back to them what we borrowed, let alone in a better state. We have mismanaged our soils, which are now killing our seas and making our beaches disappear [1]. It is a triple stupidity, and it is still going on, accelerating year by year.

Reading these FAQs is a good beginning, but there is more. The Seafriends web site was created to help you find your role. But be aware that this web site can grow only slowly, such is the amount of effort required to get all facts and logic right.
Always remember that your vote and your say are important, and in matters of reserves, they are counted. You can print the contents of this site, and share it with those who are not 'connected'. Buy the Seafriends CD. Take an active interest..

[1] To read more about why our beaches are disappearing, read Seafriends/oceanography/disappearing beaches.

Do you have some exercises?
Examples of contorted logic, myths and fallacies abound, and you can find them as soon as someone opens his/her mouth. Armed with your newfound knowledge, you will be able to find what is wrong. Politicians, of course make good targets. Here are some examples for myth-spotting.

Hobby fishers will be better off - minister- Rodney Times, 12 December 2002
Recreational anglers will be the greatest beneficiaries of a marine reserve off the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, says Minister of Conservation, Chris Carter. There is a lot of 'misguided information' in the community about marine reserves, when in fact, they create better fishing spots, Mr Carter says. "The fishing will improve considerably once it has been established for ten years. If you think about it logically, a marine reserve around Tiritiri Matangi Island and at the end of the Peninsula is an absolute benefit to the local people."

A 'keen fisherman', Mr Carter says locals say the best fishing spot is Leigh, which is just outside the marine reserve. "There is no underwater fence so fish get to roam free," he says. "It is a win-win situation."
Mr Carter says he recently spoke with Californian marine scientists, who said recreational fishers were now the biggest lobbyists for marine reserves, as they understand the spillover effect of fish from the reserves. "Although they (marine scientists) said that there was a fight at the start, recreational fishermen are now the ones pushing for them," Mr Carter says. Marine reserves not only create great fishing spots but also preserve fish and create educational and tourist opportunities. "The American experience and our experience locally proves marine reserves have beneficial effects for recreational fishermen. I feel confident people on the Hibiscus Coast will see how it happens."

Scientists use marine reserves to understand the environment and compare it with areas which have been changed, he adds. Around 33.5 per cent of New Zealand land area is protected, while only one per cent of New Zealand's territorial sea is protected, he says.
"We're talking about an absolute need to protect areas of the coast," he says. "The Labour party is committed to having 10 per cent of our coastline protected by 2010." He is also confident that the sewage outflow will not affect the reserve as land-based treatment facilities are of high quality. 

[He was not informed that the area around Whangaparaoa is degrading rapidly. FA]

Marine reserve will be a valuable asset - Rodney Times 10 Jan 2003
A marine reserve around Tiritiri Matangi Island at the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula would be a valuable asset to the Auckland region, says the Royal New Zealand Forest and Bird Protection Society. Forest and Bird's northern conservation officer, Sarah Gibbs, says the Auckland region has a shortage of marine reserves, which not only produce greater fish numbers, but also increase tourism. 

"Despite the fact that it's an hours drive from Auckland, over 250,000 people visit Leigh Marine Reserve each year and more New Zealanders visit marine reserves than national parks," she says. "On average, fish in marine reserves increase in number by 91 per cent and in size by 31 per cent. More importantly, biodiversity, in terms of number of species, increases by an average of 23 per cent. The results from existing marine reserves speak for themselves.
No-take marine reserves also have fishery benefits, as they provide breeding areas from which fish can spill over into surrounding areas," she says. "Research indicates that networks of marine reserves provide even greater benefits." 

Forest and Bird is advocating that New Zealand manage 20 per cent of its marine waters as no-take reserves.
New Zealand's progress in the creation of marine reserves over 31 years, since the Marine Reserves Act (1971) was introduced, has been 'nothing short of huge', says Ms Gibbs. "In 31 years, New Zealand has created 16 marine reserves. In total these cover a mere one per cent of our mainland coastline and less than 0.01 per cent of our exclusive economic zone."

"The Hauraki Gulf is doing only mildly better, with 0.25 per cent of the area managed as marine reserves." The Government is committed to having 10 per cent of the coastline protected by 2010.

Marine reserve options out for public comment - Rodney Times 3 January 2003
The public is being asked ... [first part left out; it explains the Tititiri marine reserve discussion document, issued by New Zealand Underwater Association (NZUA). Also maps left out]

Ms Thomas [NZUA spokesperson] says a marine reserve in this area is a natural extension to the conservation of Tiritiri Matangi Island, and Shakespear Park on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. "A marine reserve in this area would be particularly useful for education and research," she asserts. "The marine area around Tiritiri Matangi Island and the Whangaparaoa Peninsula contains a diverse range of habitat types, including many that are not protected in other marine reserves in Hauraki Gulf."

"Tiritiri Matangi Island is an open scientific sanctuary, and a marine reserve would allow scientists to study the marine environment as well as species on land," she says. "In New Zealand, marine protection is lagging far behind conservation on land, with 30 per cent of the New Zealand land area being protected, but less than one per cent of the coastal area protected in marine reserves," she asserts. "The Government is working toward having 10 per cent of New Zealand's marine area under protection by 2010. The Auckland Regional Council has a similar goal of 10 per cent of the Auckland coastal marine area in marine reserves," she adds.

New Zealand Underwater Association president Jeroen Jongejans says members support those goals and the Tiritiri marine reserve proposal is part of their effort to help achieve them.

In the 3 December 2003 article Reserve will boost business and fishing, Karli Thomas stated:
"We'd expect there would be a really good restoration of sea life in the marine reserve itself," says environment co-ordinator Karli Thomas. "Possibly this could mean better fishing spots than there are now. We are not making people head out kilometres off shore. There are three different options for the marine reserve and some exclude popular fishing spots including Wellington Rock, Shearer Rock and Rakauananga Point," she adds.

Ms Thomas, who states that Underwater New Zealand is pushing for the preservation of this unique resource, says there will also be many land-based fishing spots available.
"The marine reserve will help the marine industry, as it will open up new opportunities for new business, including diving and glass boat companies, and snorkelling businesses," she says. "This happened at Tutukaka after the whole of the Poor Knights was made a marine reserve over five years ago. As the island is currently used for scientific research it would be great to expand on this," she asserts.

[the remainder left out,as it deals with the proposal procedures] [Reader please note that the waters around Tiritiri Matangi are avoided by divers because they afford little underwater visibility, typically 0.5-3m, and monotonous underwater life. In 1975 this was 4-12m! The environment has been degrading badly.]

The Tutukaka experience - Business and tourism status given a boost
Article in the Rodney Times, Tuesday 3 December 2002
The development of a marine reserve at the Poor Knights Islands has boosted Tutukaka economy and given the area world status. Dive Tutukaka operations manager Glenn Edney says since the whole of the Poor Knights to which they send dive charters, was made a marine reserve in 1999 it has become an international icon for diving.

"The Poor Knights has gained a reputation not only throughout New Zealand but in the world, and the marine reserve status played a big part in that," he says. "People choose to dive in marine reserves over just about anywhere ... they know they are protected and there will be more fish to see. The status also boosted the Tutukaka economy, increased the amount of accommodation and helped Dive Tutukaka become the biggest dive operator in New Zealand," he adds. "Having a marine reserve in the area means dive operators do well and so does accommodation, eateries, clothes shops and so forth," he says. "Since 1999 the business has increased 30 per cent each year meaning they have had to employ six more fulltime staff during the off season and 20 more fulltimers during summer."

The Tutukaka resident says overseas divers, who recognise New Zealand to be at the forefront of marine life protection, spend approximately 25 per cent of their money on diving and the rest on other local activities and accommodation. However, he admits the marine reserve proposal caused heated debate and has had an effect on fishing in the area. "There used to be around 15 charter fishing boats and now there are about eight," he says. Although he says there has been a downfall in game fishing, this cannot be attributed to the marine reserve as they do not fish close to shore.
"There are always the fishermen that are going to be annoyed that they are not able to go to their fishing spot." But he believes a marine reserve will promote better fishing outside the area. "The eggs do not stay in the marine reserve, some will die and some will go with the currents," he says. "Most will hatch outside the marine reserve, but I don't know how far reaching that is."

[Reader, please note that the marine environment, and thus the underwater experience, rated on a scale from 0 to 10, compares as follows for: the Kermadec Islands = 10 and steady; The Poor Knights Islands = 8 and sliding; Tiritiri Matangi/Whangaparaoa = 3 and sliding.]

Should you need help with your myth-spotting, read the worked-out examples of the above newspaper articles (myths.htm and many more documents). A video has been made to promote marine reserves, and its transcript can also be studied for myth-spotting.

The paper cuttings above make for amusing reading for our children, and are therefore worth preserving.

For suggestions, improvements and comments, please e-mail the author, Dr Floor Anthoni