What is natural heritage? Why is it important to MPA design?
The nation’s natural heritage includes our legacy of species and natural habitat diversity; working ecosystems that provide important services on which we depend; unique natural, cultural, and historical features; and areas of superlative beauty.
These are features that Americans value for economic, educational, scientific, recreational, aesthetic, or ethical reasons, and are vital for current and future generations. In the late 1800s, the U.S. began to protect our terrestrial natural heritage with the creation of national parks. Now there is increasing recognition of the need to protect our coastal and marine resources, and MPAs are one method for extending protection to our marine natural heritage.
We lack practical guidelines, however, for establishing and managing MPAs designed for protection of natural heritage. For example, managers need specific goals and criteria or “targets” to evaluate how well MPAs are meeting natural heritage goals. MPAs for the purpose of sustainable fisheries can be designed to meet explicit targets that are mandated by legislation or regulation (for example, conserving some percentage of the reproductive age fish to enhance the survivorship of the population), but these targets have not been developed for natural heritage protection. Questions such as how many protected sites to create, how big they should be, and where they should be located cannot be answered until targets specific to natural heritage protection are developed.
What is the Natural Heritage team doing?
The Natural Heritage team is developing measurable objectives for design and evaluation of a marine protected area implemented for natural heritage purposes, including the development of measurable targets for MPAs. Measurable conservation targets can then be evaluated against fishery targets to determine the trade-offs for each management system. Specifically, the Natural Heritage team is:
- Developing goals and guidelines for natural heritage MPAs.
- Comparing various design approaches for natural heritage MPA design and management.
- Evaluating various metrics for measuring natural heritage attributes.
- Developing performance evaluation criteria for natural heritage MPAs.
What will the team learn?
The Natural Heritage team will develop a guidebook for MPA managers tasked with designing, implementing, and managing an MPA for natural heritage purposes. It will include key information on the range of goals and design methods for establishing natural heritage MPAs, the measures of performance that are effective at evaluating the success of a natural heritage MPA, and provide a summary of the decisionmaking tools available for resource managers.
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