Toward a Network of Marine Protected Areas in the Greater Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf

Robert Rangeley (1), John C. Roff (2), Hussein Alidina (1), Josh Laughren (3), Sarah Clark-Stuart (4), Antony Chatwin (5)

(1) World Wildlife Fund Canada, Atlantic Regional Office, Halifax (CA)
(2) Environmental Science, Acadia University, Wolfville (CA)
(3) World Wildlife Fund Canada, Toronto (CA)
(4) Conservation Law Foundation, Philadelphia (US)
(5) Nature Conservancy, Christiansted (VI)

World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF) and Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) are committed to the conservation of marine biodiversity in the Northwest Atlantic. Central to our strategy is the establishment of networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Despite commitments made by governments to implement networks of MPAs, there has been little discussion of how one may be developed and implemented. To promote dialogue on how governments can fulfill their commitments on MPAs, WWF and CLF have developed a framework for planning a network of MPAs. We are currently in the process of applying this framework to the Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf Regions on the Eastern Continental Shelf of USA and Canada (Figure 1).

The Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf region has supported centuries of human use and provided enormous economic and cultural benefits. However, many activities have had serious ecological impacts and have resulted in among other things, habitat loss, declines in commercial and non-commercial species and pollution. Communities whose livelihoods depend on marine resources have been affected as well.

WWF and CLF believe in a two-pronged approach to conservation that includes both sustainable use of resources and the protection of marine life and their habitats. There is increasing consensus and evidence of how MPAs contribute to protecting, maintaining and restoring marine ecosystems (AAAS, 2001) and to providing socioeconomic benefits (PISCO 2002).

Figure 1: The Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf Region

MPAs in the North Atlantic and generally in the Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf have not been widely used or well deployed. Most existing MPAs have been developed as management tools for commercial species, and most offer little protection to habitats or non-commercial species.

Despite commitments made by governments to implement networks of MPAs, there has been little discussion of how one may be developed and implemented. Options for developing MPAs continue to be lost or curtailed through rapid industrial development (e.g. aquaculture, fishing, oil and gas, pipelines, shipping, and coastal development). The urgency and need for MPAs is clear.

A Framework for identifying a network of MPA candidates
We have developed a framework for identifying Priority Areas for Conservation (PAC) and designing a network of MPAs for the offshore waters of the Gulf of Maine and Scotian Shelf (Figure 2). The framework consists of three main phases and incorporates both ecological and socio-economic considerations. We believe it reflects the current state of knowledge on MPA network design (Roberts et al.2003, PISCO 2002) that combines both ecosystem and focal species based approaches. It is important to note that the framework is a work in progress that continues to be adapted in its application to the study area.

Phase 1: Map representative and distinctive areas and identify a set of potential Priority Areas for Conservation. This phase includes:

Representative Areas: Classifying and mapping of Representative Areas (also called seascapes or physical habitat types) on the basis of geophysical data. Seascapes are surrogates for communities and species because they capture the fundamental physical and oceanographic conditions that affect the distribution of marine organisms

Physically Distinct Areas: Identifying areas where important processes occur (e.g. high productivity, upwelling) where species may aggregate. This is done through the analysis of finer-scale geophysical data (Roff and Evans 2002)

Biologically Distinct Areas: Analysis of biological data to identify additional areas that are important for the growth, reproduction or survival of species of concern or species groups

Developing a range of quantitative targets that identifying how much of each Representative and Distinctive Area should be captured in an eventual network of MPAs

Selecting a set of potential PACs from Representative Areas, Physically Distinct Areas and Biologically Distinct Areas with targets and optimization tools such as MARXAN

Phase 2: Connectivity and Ecological Integrity __Determine connectivity requirements within and between bio-geographic regions, and among potential PACs. Identify the conditions required to preserve the ecological integrity of potential PACs. This phase would help define what a functioning ecological network of candidate MPAs for the study area could look like. This phase will also involve conducting a gap analysis to determine how potential PACs overlap (or don't overlap) with existing MPAs.

Phase 3: Socio-economics
Include socio-economic and cultural considerations when choosing among PACs in order to arrive at a network of candidate MPAs that are connected and of sufficient size to meet ecological goals. This phase will be iterative and will involve broadening the process to involve stakeholders.

Figure 2: A Schematic of the Proposed Framework Showing the Main Linkages Between Phases

Progress on the application of the framework
We are currently in the process of completing Phase 1 of the framework. Potential PACs have been identified based on Representative Areas and a subset of Biologically Distinct Areas in the Gulf of Maine bio-geographic region (Figure 3). We have made use of MARXAN (Ball and Possingham, 2002) to efficiently meet the targets set for selecting PACs. We continue to refine our analyses with MARXAN and explore the use of different target ranges. The criteria we have used to identify potential PACs are comparable to criteria identified by Roberts et al. (2003) and PISCO (2002). These are bio-geographic representation, habitat representation, vulnerable life stages and species of special concern (Table 1).

Figure 3: Spatial Data used in Selecting PACs for the Gulf of Maine Biogeographic Region (work in progress)

Table 1: Summary of criteria used to identify PACs

Next steps
At present, Physically Distinct Areas have not been incorporated into the PAC selection process. We anticipate the identification of potential PACs for the remainder of the biogeographic regions by December 2003 and we hope to have them reviewed by regional experts shortly afterward. Work on Phases 2 and 3 will continue in the winter of 2004.

In preparation, for phase 2 and 3 we have compiled information on existing designated areas in the region and have assessed the level to which they are protected. We are compiling information on current flows and mapping marine use and intensity.

We welcome comments on our work to date. For further information or comments please contact Jennifer Smith (, Marine Program, WWF-Canada

The WWF and CLF team would like to thank the numerous individuals from various institutions who have assisted us with this project to date on this project. They include members of the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Wildlife Service, Geological Survey of Canada, Living Oceans Society, The Nature Conservancy, North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, Oak Ridge National Lab, United States National Marine Fisheries Service, University of Calgary, University of Connecticut and University of Maine. We would also like to thank Ken Larade, Susan Evans and Marty King for contributions on this project.