The science of European marine reserves: Status, efficacy, and future needs

Phillip B. Fenberg, Jennifer E. Caselle, Joachim Claudet, Michaela Clemence, Steven D. Gaines, Jose Antonio García-Charton, Emanuel J. Gonçalves, Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, Paolo Guidetti, Stuart R. Jenkins, Peter J.S. Jones, Sarah E. Lester, Rob McAllen, Even Moland, Serge Planes, Thomas Kirk Sørensen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The ecologically and socio-economically important marine ecosystems of Europe are facing severe threats from a variety of human impacts. To mitigate and potentially reverse some of these impacts, the European Union (EU) has mandated the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) in order to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) in EU waters by 2020. The primary initiative for achieving GES is the implementation of coherent networks of marine protected areas (MPAs). Marine reserves are an important type of MPA in which no extraction is allowed, but their usefulness depends upon a number of ecological, management, and political factors. This paper provides a synthesis of the ecological effects of existing Europeanmarine reserves and the factors (social and ecological) underlying their effectiveness. Results show that existing Europeanmarine reserves foster significant positive increases in key biological variables (density, biomass, body size, and species richness) compared with areas receiving less protection, a pattern mirrored by marine reserves around the globe. For marine reserves to achieve their ecological and social goals, however, they must be designed, managed, and enforced properly. In addition, identifying whether protected areas are ecologically connected as a network, as well as where new MPAs should be established according to the MSFD, requires information on the connectivity of populations across large areas. The adoption of the MSFD demonstrates willingness to achieve the long-term protection of Europe's marine ecosystems, but whether the political will (local, regional, and continent wide) is strong enough to see its mandates through remains to be seen. Although the MSFD does not explicitly require marine reserves, an important step towards the protection of Europe's marine ecosystems is the establishment of marine reserves within wider-use MPAs as connected networks across large spatial scales
Original languageEnglish
JournalMarine Policy
Issue number5
Pages (from-to)1012-1021
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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