Bahamas serve as test case for marine protected areas

May 27, 2003

The Bahamas, with their fabulous reef ecosystems and associated tourism economy, are becoming a living laboratory for studying the effects of protecting some places in the ocean.

An international team of scientists, including a UC Davis pioneer in the field, will spend five years charting the natural and human impacts as the Bahamian government expands its existing system of marine protected areas (MPAs) to create one of the world's first marine reserve networks. Typically, in a marine protected area, no resources may be removed, including fish.

Alan Hastings, a UC Davis theoretical ecologist and mathematical biologist, is an expert at modeling of spatially distributed populations, using math-based methods to predict the changes in populations of plants and animals within a given area.

With UC Davis collaborators, Hastings has developed the conceptual basis for the design of marine reserves that preserve fish abundance and variety and yet yield the same fishing harvest as current fishing-control methods in an idealized setting.

"The study in the Bahamas provides a unique opportunity to apply the conceptual model to a complex, real-world problem, with sufficient resources and expertise to take advantage of a multidisciplinary approach," Hastings said. Along with other collaborators in the project, he will devise models that take into account other factors beyond simply fish harvest, ranging from economics to the role of ecotourism, complex ocean currents and political realities.

The study's overall goal is both to understand the design of marine reserve networks in general and to provide scientific help in the design of a marine reserve network in the Bahamas.

The new study, called the Bahamas Biocomplexity Project, is led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History. It is funded by a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The American Museum of Natural History's global mission is to explore and interpret human cultures and the natural world through a wide-reaching program of scientific research, education and exhibitions.
Media contact(s):
* Sylvia Wright, UC Davis News Service, 530-752-7704,

Additional contact(s):
* Alan Hastings, Environmental Science and Policy, 530-752-8116,
* Robin Lloyd, American Museum of Natural History, 212-496-3419,

University of California - Davis

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