UC Davis researchers were key to Clinton's order for marine reserves

May 25, 2000

UC Davis researchers were central to the effort leading to President Clinton's order today directing federal agencies to establish a comprehensive national system of marine protected areas.

Marine protected areas are areas of the ocean and coast that are protected from some or all human activities to conserve biodiversity, sustain fisheries, preserve cultural and recreational resources, and to provide valuable natural laboratories for scientific research. Currently, less than one one-thousandth of U.S. marine waters are fully protected from harm.

One of the key recommendations that led to the president's order came from a May workshop held under the auspices of the Marine Conservation Biology Institute and The Cousteau Society. At that workshop, 15 leading social and natural scientists from around the world wrote a letter to the White House calling for the creation of a comprehensive national system of protected marine areas and recommending criteria for the design and management of the system.

One of those scientists was Louis Botsford, a UC Davis professor of wildlife, fish and conservation biology and an authority on ecological modeling.

"Lou is a world-class ecological modeler. He builds mathematical models of natural systems and, by making certain assumptions, he tests what would happen if we did certain things," said Dr. Elliott A. Norse, president of Marine Conservation Biology Institute, a nonprofit scientific and conservation organization based in Redmond, Wash.

"This is the kind of thing that Lou can do: He can model what would be the effect of lots of little marine reserves as opposed to a small number of large ones. Which would be more effective at protecting the organisms inside them and which would be more effective in producing surplus organisms for fisherman to catch? That's the sort of question that Lou is brilliantly equipped to address," Norse said.

Other UC Davis scientists are also contributing to the crucial body of knowledge that was used by the president and that will be shaping important marine policy decisions in the future.

"UC Davis is one of the places that's been central to the formulation of general principles for the design of marine reserves," said Alan Hastings, professor of environmental science and policy.

Hastings, an authority on the modeling of spatially distributed populations, was co-author of an influential paper that appeared in the journal Science in January 1999. With Botsford, Hastings reported that "no-take zones" in coastal waters could reduce the effects of fishing and better preserve biodiversity in the world's oceans, and yet actually yield the same industry harvest as current fishing-control methods.

They concluded that managing through reserves can net the fishing industry a sustainable catch identical to the maximum yield under traditional management.

Also at UC Davis, Jim Wilen, professor of agricultural and resource economics, studies the economics of marine reserves. Wilen is a member of a committee of the National Research Council advising the federal government on marine reserves.

"Our efforts at UC Davis are the first to link biological and economic models for the purpose of analyzing spatial management measures, including marine reserves," Wilen said. "My work involves trying to analyze the economic benefits and costs of marine reserves; my colleagues' work is on the biological benefits and costs."

Wilen recently completed a study of marine reserves in the Galapagos Islands, with assistant professor of environmental science and policy David Layton and graduate student Micki Stewart. They concluded that if 20 percent of the Galapagos marine ecosystem were set aside in a reserve, the benefit-to-cost ratio would be 10 to 1, "which is a very high payoff," Wilen said. "You'd gain a very high benefit in ecotourism."

"The work we're doing is multidisciplinary work between social and biological scientists focused on solving policy problems, and UC Davis has an enormous amount of capacity and talent to do this and to influence state, national and world policies," Wilen said.
For details of the recommendations from the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, see the organization's web site at http://www.mcbi.org/.

Media contacts:
-- Sylvia Wright, News Service, 530-752-7704, swright@ucdavis.edu
-- Alan Hastings, environmental science and policy, 530-752-8116, amhastings@ucdavis.edu (available Friday, May 26, until 5 p.m.)
-- Lou Botsford, wildlife, fish and conservation biology, 530-752-6169, lwbotsford@ucdavis.edu (not available until Tuesday, May 30)
-- Jim Wilen, agricultural and resource economics. 530-752-6093, wilen@primal.ucdavis.edu (not available until Tuesday, May 30)
-- Elliott Norse, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, 425-883-8914, enorse@u.washington.edu (available Friday, May 26)

University of California - Davis

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