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A new study has used a marine monitor radar system to monitor California marine protected areas

New Study Used Marine Monitor Radar System to Monitor California Marine Protected Areas

Marine Monitor (M2) Radar system monitored activity near Piedras Blancas Light Station in central California. Credit: ProtectedSeas

A new study has found that boaters often gather along the edges of marine protected areas (MPAs) off the coast of California. These new findings suggest that fishermen are aware of MPA boundaries and cluster just beyond them to potentially take advantage of better fishing opportunities by “fishing the line.”

The study, recently published in PLOS ONE, used the autonomous data collection tool ProtectedSeas Marine Monitor (M2) to continuously monitor vessel activity 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a year at five state-run MPAs near San Diego, Santa Barbara and Cambria. The M2 systems, which combine marine radar with custom software, were deployed to record boat movements on the water, enabling researchers to continuously measure boat activity in and around MPAs for the first time.

The network of M2 systems in California is managed by ProtectedSeas and location partners at each location.

The researchers identified specific boat movements and found that a total of 40 percent more boating activity occurred near MPAs compared to surrounding areas. A well-documented benefit of MPAs is the “overflow” of marine life from an MPA to the surrounding areas.

“Most of the activity occurred at or outside MPA edges, not within the area itself,” said ProtectedSeas researcher Samantha Cope, the study’s lead author. “This suggests that boaters are aware of the MPA and that the areas serve their purpose of creating safe havens for the recovery of ocean life. Fishermen see an advantage to spending time near the area because MPAs work.

The researchers found that boating activity clustered at MPA edges occurred at all five locations. Clustering intensified in Southern California’s MPAs during both commercial and recreational crawfish seasons, a valuable fishery in the state. During the commercial crawfish season, the clustering was 30 times greater, including in the Campus Point State Marine Reserve near Santa Barbara.

New Study Used Marine Monitor Radar System to Monitor California Marine Protected Areas

Pleasure craft are monitored by the Marine Monitor (M2) Radar System in California. Credit: ProtectedSeas

“Conservation work needs to be data-driven, and M2 helps us understand trends in what’s happening in MPAs,” said study co-author Jess Morten, a researcher with the California Marine Sanctuary Foundation, a site partner of M2 in California.

California MPAs primarily restrict fishing activities to conserve prized species and habitats. When fishing activity is concentrated at the MPA margins, it suggests that closer to the MPA there may be more fish than elsewhere in the area. Monitoring human activity can help managers evaluate both the environmental and community benefits of the MPA, detect patterns in boat activity and other human uses, and ensure compliance with MPA regulations.

The M2 system provided researchers with an independent method to continuously document activities. “We specifically designed M2 to monitor important marine sites at a cost that was realistic for local managers,” said M2 Product Manager and study co-author Brendan Tougher. “This research demonstrates that M2 is an accessible and robust tool for monitoring MPAs.”

The state’s first MPA Decadal Management Review is currently underway to evaluate the existing network of MPAs. Research on human activity near MPAs is important for evaluating the success of current ocean protection.

There are currently 18 M2 systems operating worldwide, six of which are in California and many internationally in developing countries.

“As a ‘low-tech’ solution for more efficient MPA monitoring, M2 is especially valuable for anyone with limited technical experience or resources, as people can be quickly trained in how to use and interpret data from our systems,” said Tougher.

Activity hotspots occurred at MPA boundaries and this activity was generally most common during the afternoon and weekends. There was generally less activity at the central California site guarding the Piedras Blancas State Marine Reserve and State Conservation Area, likely due to its remoteness. But hotspots at the MPA borders were still present.

One size doesn’t fit all for successful marine protected areas

More information:
Samantha Cope et al, Kustradar as a tool for continuous and fine-grained monitoring of ship activities of interest near marine protected areas, PLOS ONE (2022). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0269490

Provided by ProtectedSeas

Quote: A new study has used a naval monitor radar system to monitor California’s Marine Protected Areas (2022, Aug. 2), retrieved Aug. 2, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-08-marine-radar- california areas. html

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