Ecological Design Principles

Ecological Design Principles

DAR biologists, in collaboration with other researchers and experts, have developed a set of seven ecological design principles that aim to maximize ecological goals or objectives of Marine Management Areas (MMAs). These principles take into account key bio-physical processes (including resilience to climate change) and socioeconomic criteria to guide the design of MMA networks. Design principles are scientific guidelines that describe how to create effective networks of MMAs. These include areas that are the right size, spaced appropriately, and can work individually while still being ecologically connected to achieve conservation goals, such as bigger and more fish. Below are the seven ecological design principles, which can be considered “best practices” for MMA network design.

1) Representation of diverse coastal habitats

-Inclusion of representative habitat types of nearshore waters (e.g., seagrass meadows, coral reefs, or estuaries), recognizing the importance of these habitats for specific life stages of targeted fish species (i.e., nursery habitat, spawning areas, and foraging areas)

-Replication of these different habitat types

-Inclusion of rare and/or unique features and/or species

-MMAs in both leeward and windward side of islands

2) Size and shape of MMA designed to maximize management benefits and spillover effects

-Size is at least 1.5 miles (2 km) straight-distance along coastline

-MMAs have compact shapes and clear boundaries

-Consideration of movement patterns and home ranges of species to be prioritized for protection

-Consideration for fishery spillover effects between MMAs and non-MMAs

3) Connected network of individual MMAs at an island scale

-Spatially close enough and evenly distributed to best support connectivity between MMAs within the network

-Include connectivity nodes and use oceanographic features to support larval dispersal and recruitment

4) Mauka to Makai collaborations and partnerships for a holistic management approach

-MMAs are adjacent to terrestrial and estuarine areas that are already well-managed

-Coordinated networks of managed areas across land and sea for integrated management

-Collaborate with local communities and other organizations that are adjacent to MMAs to provide support with outreach and enforcement

5) Prioritization of areas that could have the highest possible benefit from management and/or restoration

-Select “healthy” areas that generally have low levels of threats/pressures and host a higher biodiversity

-Select areas that are also degraded but could benefit the most from management and restoration efforts (e.g., coral outplanting, sea urchin release to remove invasive algae that can suffocate corals)

-Carefully consider areas near/with multiple or compounding threats (e.g., pollution, sedimentation, high levels of human development and population, invasive algae), especially if these areas are ecologically important

6) Inclusion of areas that are shown to be resilient (both resistance to and recovery from disturbance) in the face of global stressors such as climate change

-Representation of thermally resilient coral reefs,
including reefs in areas that have naturally high temperature variability

-Inclusion of coral reefs in areas with low levels of human impacts (e.g., minimal run-off, less sedimentation, good water quality)

-Prioritization of areas with natural temperature buffers, such as cold groundwater discharge or upwelling

-Inclusion of areas that have high coral recruitment and herbivore diversity, abundance, and biomass

7) Long-term planning that allows for evaluation and adaptation to current conditions

-MMA designation is permanent or for a minimum of 20-40 years, with no rotational closures

-MMA provides abundant resources and benefits for future generations

-Long-term planning utilized to allow for time to respond to management action, where regulations may be adapted to reflect current conditions

-MMAs co-located with existing long-term monitoring sites

Cover photo courtesy of Bert Weeks, Infographics created by Laura Gajdzik using and symbols from the Integration and Application Network