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Multi-zone marine protected areas: Assessment of ecosystem and fisheries benefits using multiple ecosystem models.


The current alarming state of many coastal ecosystems and fisheries calls for the development of tools to support recovery of exploited stocks, ensure their sustainable exploitation and protect marine ecosystems. Multi-zone Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are often advocated to reconcile conservation and fisheries benefits. However, while there is a consensus about the ecological benefits whether such types of MPAs can really provide both benefits is still uncertain. Here, we analysed three existing Northwestern Mediterranean multi-zone MPAs (Cerbère-Banyuls, Cap de Creus and Medes Islands) using a comparative temporal ecosystem modelling approach to assess their effectiveness over time in recovering marine resources and ecosystem in the area. Our results showed differences in the ecological effectiveness of the three MPAs, potentially driven by MPA design, management and implementation features. Temporal increases of benefits were small, whenever detected, and showed slight recoveries of some target species and ecological indicators, mostly in Cerbère-Banyuls and Medes Islands MPAs. Our results confirm the benefits of protection to coastal marine resources and ecosystems when MPAs are enforced but highlight the current limitations of the three MPAs due to their small size and the significant impacts of small-scale and recreational fisheries. This study illustrates the capability to evaluate protection effects of small multi-zone MPAs with an ecosystem modelling perspective and represents the baseline to develop future scenarios of alternative management options to foster ecosystem recovery and resource rebuilding in the studied MPAs.

Application in MSP:
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Key words:


  • How do MPA protected regimes affect marine ecosystems over time?
  • How can activities influence marine ecosystems in MPAs? 
  • How is an MPA’s effectiveness assessed? 


The study was funded by the European research project SAFENET, which aims to identify coherent network(s) of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other area-based fisheries management rules that can help to achieve fisheries maximum sustainable yield.


The study applies a comparative approach to assess the use and protection of the MPA network, and to identify commonalities and differences between the study areas. 


To assess the effectiveness of each case study, a number of ecosystem modelling tools were applied (i.e., Ecopath, Ecosim, ECOIND, etc.).


The study highlighted the current limitations of the three MPAs, as well as the ecological effects of protection over time.


The methodology and modelling approach can be applied to areas similar to those considered in this study. 

Responsible Entity: 

Institut de Ciéncies del Mar (ICM-CSIC), Barcelona (Spain). 

Costs / Funding Source: 

EU Research Project SAFENET, Sustainable Fisheries in EU Mediterranean waters through Network of MPAs, Grant Agreement n. 721708. 

Contact person: 

X. Corrales:  



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