A special issue of the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences released this week features research papers from multiple UCSB scientists.

The special feature focuses on research involving marine reserves, with the goals being improved conservation of marine resources as well as effective fishery management.

Steven Gaines, dean of the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UCSB and a guest editor of the PNAS special issue, said the studies seek to protect ocean ecosystems and make marine resources more sustainable.

“There is plenty of new evidence to show that if reserves are designed well, they can benefit both fish and fishermen,” Gaines said in a press release. “An enormous amount of research has already been done on marine reserves, helping to facilitate their use and development around the world, and yet many lingering questions remain. Papers in this special issue help answer many of those questions.”

One such study, which was first authored by economist Christopher Costello from the Bren School, found that since the value of fisheries could be increased if fishing is intensified in areas where the population accumulates and prohibited in areas where the population spawns frequently, information on population dynamics can significantly improve the profitability and sustainability of a marine reserve.

“What you’d really like to do is close the source to fishing and only fish in the sink area,” Costello said in a press release. “It turns out you get a much higher economic value and much better conservation when you do that. But if you don’t know where the sources and sinks are, you can’t do that, so that is where the information comes in.”

In a press release, Andrew Rassweiler, co-author of the study and a biologist at UCSB, said the adequate collection of population data within a reserve improves both conservation and profitability, resulting in a win-win situation for the ecosystem and the fishery’s resources.

“If you care about both conservation and fisheries, regardless of the relative value you place on each, better information about dispersal will help you achieve both goals,” Rassweiler said. “Because managers have to be selective when placing reserves, information on sources and sinks will help them get the best results with the least disruption to fishing.”

Ben Halpern, project coordinator for the Ecosystem-based Management Program at UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, was the lead author of another study featured in the issue, which found that marine reserves provided a significant benefit to large stretches of coastal ocean. By mitigating the ecological damage caused by fishing, marine reserves can be vital to maintaining areas that are heavily damaged by the activity.

Another study from UCSB researchers assessed the health of the fish populations inside the network marine reserves making up the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Jennifer Caselle, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara and co-author of the paper, found that fish were significantly healthier and more abundant inside the reserves than outside.

“We’re at the point where we can actually begin to assess network benefits, including increases in the size and number of fish across the entire network,” Caselle said in a press release. “Based on what we know so far, it seems the whole really can be more than the sum of its parts when network are designed with larval and adult movements in mind.”

While the studies provide researchers, policymakers, fishermen and consumers with hope for a sustainable ocean, there is still a significant amount of work that needs to be done to ensure the safety of the world’s marine resources.

“It was surprising to see how much marine reserves could improve overall ocean health in many places around the world, but also humbling how much still needs to be done,” Halpern said in a press release. “Marine reserves and other marine protected areas are an important piece of the puzzle in addressing marine resource management comprehensively, but they are only part of the solution.”