Integrating stakeholder preferences into science-driven approaches to designing marine reserve networks can help to create designs that are scientifically sound, while taking into account local knowledge and preferences. Early engagement and input from stakeholders can facilitate the successful implementation of new marine reserves and maximise compliance.

Worldwide, overfishing and climate change threaten marine biodiversity and fisheries. Addressing these problems is critical in areas of high species richness and endemicity, such as the Midriff Islands, Gulf of California (Mexico), where livelihoods of coastal communities are threatened by depletion of fish stocks and potential loss of species associated with climate change. Establishing networks of no-take zones (NTZs) is a central strategy being used to address overfishing and to increase resilience of marine ecosystems against climate change.

Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) is working with multiple partners and local communities to design, implement and evaluate marine reserves in the Gulf of California. In collaboration with multiple organisations, including Arizona State University and researchers from The Conservation Planning Group, COBI is leading an effort in to design a network of NTZs in the Midriff Islands region. The network aims to protect marine biodiversity associated with rocky reefs, while minimizing the costs to fisheries and accounting for ecological connectivity and climate change (see video). An important component of the project is to develop new approaches to incorporate fishers’ preferences into the design of the network. Following multiple meetings and interviews with fishers, the research team identified areas of conservation importance, as well as their preferences on areas that could be incorporated into the NTZ network. With this information, the planning team generated science-based and community-based networks and compared their performance in terms of achieving conservation objectives and costs.

The community-based approach on its own resulted in a network ~1/3 smaller than the one from the science-based approach. It also fell short at representing many habitats. However, when incorporating stakeholder preferences into the science-based approach, the network size increased by only 2.5% and suffered only a mild 3.4% increase in terms of opportunity cost. These findings are encouraging and confirm that science-based approaches can be improved with input from stakeholders, which can also lead to local support and higher compliance with the NTZs.

The planning process and discussions are ongoing, but the latest results were presented at the recent International Marine Conservation Congress, and are summarised in this poster. We will continue publishing updates as the project makes progress towards implementation!

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