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Proc Biol Sci. 2003 September 22; 270(1527): 1871–1878.
PMCID: PMC1691459

Matching marine reserve design to reserve objectives.


Recent interest in using marine reserves for marine resource management and conservation has largely been driven by the hope that reserves might counteract declines in fish populations and protect the biodiversity of the seas. However, the creation of reserves has led to dissension from some interested groups, such as fishermen, who fear that reserves will do more harm than good. These perceived differences in the effect of marine reserves on various stakeholder interests has led to a contentious debate over their merit. We argue here that recent findings in marine ecology suggest that this debate is largely unnecessary, and that a single general design of a network of reserves of moderate size and variable spacing can meet the needs and goals of most stakeholders interested in marine resources. Given the high fecundity of most marine organisms and recent evidence for limited distance of larval dispersal, it is likely that reserves can both maintain their own biodiversity and service nearby non-reserve areas. In particular, spillover of larger organisms and dispersal of larvae to areas outside reserves can lead to reserves sustaining or even increasing local fisheries. Ultimately, the success of any reserve network requires attention to the uncertainty and variability in dispersal patterns of marine organisms, clear statements of goals by all stakeholder groups and proper evaluation of reserve performance.

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