Back in January, David Shiffman of the ever insightful Southern Fried Science came out with an interesting post which begged the age-old question 'Can marine protected areas save the ocean?' Actually, the question was more like 'Can no-take areas save fish stocks?' The conclusion he reached was that yes, maybe, in some cases, if everything is done right, it would probably help. Of course, he put it much more eloquently than that and also used this wonderful cartoon, which I have shamelessly reposted (courtesy of NOAA):
Fast forward to the present (well, let's say two weeks ago), and the publication of a paper in PLoS ONE: Large Recovery of Fish Biomass in a No-Take Marine Reserve. 'A paper', you say, 'What gives?' True, I lured you in with the hot fudge sundae of marine humour only to serve you the cold goulash of peer-reviewed literature. But not to worry, I will summarize.
The study took place in Cabo Pulmo National Park, marine reserve on the south-east tip of the Baja California Sur in Mexico. The reserve includes a large 'no-take' area (or 35 % of the total area) that was closed to fishing. The park was surveyed in 1999, four years after it was established, but no significant difference was found between the biomass (the total living mass) of the fish there and and surrounding areas where fishing was permitted. However, the reserve was surveyed again ten years later and this time there was a large difference.
How large, you ask? Over those 10 years the fish biomass in the park had increased 463 %, while there was no significant change in surrounding areas. Not only that, but the biomass of top predators, such as sharks, had increased by an astounding 11 times. In fact it was the largest recovery recorded for any marine reserve in the world!