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Multi-zone marine protected areas: assessment of ecosystem and fisheries benefits using multiple ecosystem models

Abstract: 

The current alarming state of many coastal ecosystems calls for the development of tools to support recovery of exploited stocks, ensure their sustainable exploitation and protect marine ecosystems. Multi-zone marine protected areas (MPAs) are often advocated to reconcile conservation and fisheries benefits. However, whether such types of MPAs can really provide both benefits is still uncertain. Here, we analysed three existing Northwestern Mediterranean multi-zone MPAs (Cerbère-Banyuls, Cap de Creus and Medes Islands) using a comparative temporal ecosystem modelling approach to assess their effectiveness over time on recovering marine resources and ecosystem in the area. Our results showed differences in the ecological effectiveness of the three MPAs, partially due to MPA design, management and implementation features. Temporal increases of benefits were small, whenever detected, and showed slight recoveries of some target species and ecological indicators, mostly in Cerbère-Banyuls and Medes Islands MPAs. Our results confirm the benefits of protection to coastal marine resources and ecosystems when areas are enforced, but highlight the current limitations of the three MPAs due to their small size and the significant impacts of small-scale and recreational fisheries. This study illustrates the capability to evaluate protection effects of small multi-zone MPAs with an ecosystem modelling perspective and represents the baseline to develop future scenarios of alternative management options to foster ecosystem recovery and resource rebuilding in the studied MPAs.