“Ecological guidelines for designing networks of marine reserves in the unique biophysical environment of the Gulf of California”


Fully protected marine reserves are key tools for enhancing fisheries, conserving biodiversity and adapting to climate change. However, their benefits are evident only if they are well designed, strategically placed and are part of bottom-up strategies that include local communities and users.


Fig. 1Gulf of California showing the location of 47 existing marine reserves, and the location of the three biogeographic subregions (Brusca et al. 2005): Northern (NGC), Central (CGC) and Southern (SGC).

By synthesizing the ample scientific information available for the Gulf of California, 37 researchers from 20 institutions, we published the ecological guidelines for designing networks of marine reserves, open access in the Journal Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries. The guidelines suggest to protect the main habitats including replicates within each bioregion, protect critical areas for the reproduction and growth of commercial species and sites with unique biodiversity, include sites that are connected with help of oceanic currents to allow for larval exchange and sites with a minimum length of at least 10km to protect ~80% of commercial species, and consider climate change effects, among others.

The ecological guidelines represent an opportunity for Mexico, particularly to strengthen the design of fishery refuges and core zones within natural protected areas administered by CONAPESCA/SAGARPA and CONANP/SEMARNAT, respectively. Well designed marine reserves can help maximize the benefits for both people and nature in the long term.

Link to full open-acces paper:



COFI33 Side event – The importance of small-scale fisheries: Global, regional and national initiatives


Coming to  (Committee on Fisheries 33rd Session) this week at the FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department headquarters? Join us Monday lunch at our side event to discuss ongoing work to improve our knowledge of small-scale fisheries contributions to food security and poverty eradication, and on implementation of the SSF guidelines w/ governments from around the world. Looking forward to a great discussion!


See full agenda here

The endorsement of the Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication by the FAO Committee on Fisheries in 2014 was a global recognition of the importance of the sector. Importantly, these SSF Guidelines bring together responsible fisheries and social development, providing a policy framework towards small-scale fisheries sustainability through a holistic and integrated approach, in line with the 2030 Agenda, which rests on the interconnected and indivisible nature of its 17 SDGs.

However, this transformation needs substantial support, including better understanding the contributions of small-scale fisheries to sustainable development to make the case for greater political support. This side event will therefore present ongoing work to improve our knowledge of the sector’s contributions, in particular to food security and poverty eradication, and on the implementation of the SSF Guidelines at various levels, which will also support paving the way towards the International Year of Artisanal Fisheries and Aquaculture in 2022.

Twitter: #COFI33 #SSFGuidelines

The event will be webcast (FAO)

News Flickr Collection

Illuminating Hidden Harvests: The contributions of small-scale fisheries to sustainable development


All over the world, small-scale fisheries (SSF) provide livelihoods for millions, essential nutrition to billions and contribute substantially to household, local and national economies and economic growth. In the oceans, more people work in SSF than in all other sectors combined (World Bank 2012; OECD 2016). Inland rivers, lakes and floodplains support even more men and women fishers, processors and sellers than do marine systems. Furthermore, SSF are often culturally important to the identity of those involved, and can be central to trade, social structures and interactions within and among communities. Yet due to the highly diverse and dispersed nature of SSF, quantifying and understanding their multiple contributions is difficult. As a result, despite impressive headline statistics, SSF are too frequently marginalized in political processes and not given due attention in policy. This is becoming increasingly problematic as pressure from outside the sector (e.g. globalized trade, competition for space and resources, climate change) and from within (e.g. rising fishing effort, limited investment in management) increases and the costs of marginalization are ever more apparent.


Fig. 1 – HIDDEN HARVEST: The Global Contribution of Capture Fisheries (2012).

The Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (SSF Guidelines) have the ambitious goal of supporting the development of SSF and fishing communities through a human rights-based approach to fisheries that is socially and environmentally sustainable. Achieving this goal will require substantial support from governments, private enterprise, international donors and NGOs. A key element in building the case for this support is better illuminating the diverse contributions of these fisheries, and providing new evidence in a way that can be used by communities and advocates to make a strong case for investment in the sector. In 2012, FAO, the World Bank and WorldFish published Hidden Harvest: The Global Contribution of Capture Fisheries (HH1) (Fig. 1), which produced valuable new estimates of relative importance of large-scale and small-scale fisheries. Millions of metric tons of fish from the sector are hidden (unreported), with HH1 suggesting underreporting rates from inland fisheries globally of about 70%. SSF in developing countries produce almost as much fish for direct domestic consumption as large-scale fisheries, and most of this is consumed locally in rural settings where poverty rates are high and quality nutrition is sorely needed. Importantly, the study highlighted that almost 50% of workers in the sector are women.

Org. Framework_IHH

Fig. 2 – Organizational framework of the “Illuminating Hidden Harvests” (IHH) study. SDGs = Sustainable Development Goals.

To support the growing momentum in implementing the SSF Guidelines, and in response to the Sustainable Development Goals, FAO, WorldFish and Duke University are working in partnership with experts globally to revisit and build on this initial HH1 study. Encompassing the pre-harvesting, harvesting and post-harvesting sectors of inland and marine fisheries, the new study entitled “Illuminating Hidden Harvests” (IHH) asks the questions: 1) What are the social, environmental, economic and governance contributions of SSF at global and local scales? And 2) What are the key drivers of change in these sectors, including both threats and opportunities? As with the HH1 study, we will use a case study approach to engage with local expertise in priority countries that have substantial SSF sectors or notable nutritional dependence on SSF. The study will also take advantage of improved availability of relevant national and global datasets on fisheries, demographics, employment, fish consumption and nutrition in the synthesis and extrapolation process. Besides updating many indicators from the first study, the new study seeks in particular to provide new synthesis on social and nutritional benefits, and social differentiation in the flow of benefits from different fishery sectors. A series of thematic studies will highlight available information on important themes that may include among others climate change impacts, contributions to conservation and governance, where global synthesis is perhaps not yet possible (Fig. 2).

IHH pamphletThe project will produce a major synthesis report in 2020. Thematic studies and possibly some country case studies will be published as separate reports and scientific journal articles where appropriate. A major communications effort will accompany the project, involving close engagement with key stakeholders to understand communication needs to support SSF communities and the drive to implement the SSF Guidelines. The project provides a ‘snapshot’ of the current contributions from SSF but importantly also looks at drivers of change. Associated with the project, but extending beyond the 2020 reporting date, will be an initiative that integrates methods and outcomes from country case studies, thematic studies and global synthesis into a framework for monitoring change trajectories and impacts of investments and management innovation in the SSF sector.

For further information see project pamphlet here, or please contact:

Project Coordinator FAO: Giulia Gorelli (giulia.gorelli@fao.org)
Duke University: Maria del Mar Mancha-Cisneros (mar.mancha@duke.edu)            WorldFish: David Mills (d.mills@cgiar.org)

A user-friendly tool to evaluate the effectiveness of no-take marine reserves


The benefits of no-take marine reserves – where all extractive activities are prohibited – are well known. While previous work has provided indicators to evaluate performance of marine protected areas, they do not provide guidelines to analyze these indicators, nor a user-friendly tool to conduct the evaluation. A group of graduates from The Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California Santa Barbara have collaborated with the Mexican NGO Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C. over the past couple of years to provide managers and fishers with tools to evaluate marine reserves taking into account biophysical, socioeconomic, and governance dimensions.

The result of this work is a new open access paper published by the graduates, other colleagues and I in the journal PLoS ONE titled: “A user-friendly tool to evaluate the effectiveness of no-take marine reserves“. The group also developed an open-source user-friendly web application called MAREA (Marine Reserve Evaluation App), which automates the evaluation of the effectiveness of marine no-take reserves and produces a color-coded scorecard.


Citation: Villaseñor-Derbez JC, Faro C, Wright M, Martínez J, Fitzgerald S, Fulton S, et al. (2018) A user-friendly tool to evaluate the effectiveness of no-take marine reserves. PLoS ONE 13(1): e0191821. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0191821

For more information:


Marine reserves are implemented to achieve a variety of objectives, but are seldom rigorously evaluated to determine whether those objectives are met. In the rare cases when evaluations do take place, they typically focus on ecological indicators and ignore other relevant objectives such as socioeconomics and governance. And regardless of the objectives, the diversity of locations, monitoring protocols, and analysis approaches hinder the ability to compare results across case studies. Moreover, analysis and evaluation of reserves is generally conducted by outside researchers, not the reserve managers or users, plausibly thereby hindering effective local management and rapid response to change. We present a framework and tool, called “MAREA”, to overcome these challenges. Its purpose is to evaluate the extent to which any given reserve has achieved its stated objectives. MAREA provides specific guidance on data collection and formatting, and then conducts rigorous causal inference analysis based on data input by the user, providing real-time outputs about the effectiveness of the reserve. MAREA’s ease of use, standardization of state-of-the-art inference methods, and ability to analyze marine reserve effectiveness across ecological, socioeconomic, and governance objectives could dramatically further our understanding and support of effective marine reserve management.

Citation: Villaseñor-Derbez J.C.,Faro, C., Wright, M., Martínez, J., Fitzgerald, S., Fulton, S., Mancha-Cisneros, M.M., McDonald, G., Micheli, F., Suárez, A., Torre, J., Costello, C. 2018. A user-friendly tool to evaluate the effectiveness of no-take marine reserves. PLoS ONE 13(1): e0191821.

Designing connected marine reserves in the face of global warming


(Spanish version here)

Global warming can disrupt ecological connectivity among marine reserves by shortening potential dispersal pathways through changes in larval physiology. These changes can compromise the effectiveness of marine reserve networks, thus requiring adjusting their design to account for warmer oceans. To address this challenge, a group of scientists, agencies, NGOs, and fishers have developed an approach to planning for connectivity under future ocean warming. The project, coordinated by Comunidad y Biodiversidad, A.C. (COBI), is guiding the design and implementation of a network of marine reserves in the Gulf of California, Mexico.


Midriff Islands Region in the northern Gulf of California, Mexico. Photo by Thor Morales ©

Using the Midriff Islands Region as a case study, we developed a framework to design marine reserve networks that integrates graph theory and changes in larval connectivity due to ocean warming. Our study shows that maintaining dispersal connectivity incidentally through representation-only reserve design is unlikely, particularly in regions with strong asymmetric patterns of connectivity. We suggest that, given potential reductions in planktonic larval duration due to ocean warming, future marine reserve networks would require more and/or larger reserves in closer proximity to maintain larval connectivity. Designing marine reserve networks through an approach based on centrality of habitat patches produces better-connected marine reserve networks for the future with equivalent socioeconomic costs. The results of this study, led by Jorge G. Alvarez-Romero, were recently published in Global Change Biology.

**For more information, refer to the following publication and blog:

Álvarez-Romero, J.G., Munguia-Vega, A., Beger, M., Mancha-Cisneros, M.M., Suárez-Castillo, A.N., Gurney, G.G., Pressey, R.L., Gerber, Morzaria-Luna, H.N., L.R., Reyes-Bonilla, H., Adams, V.M., Kolb, M., Graham, E.M., VanDerWal, J., Castillo-Lopez, A., Hinojosa-Arango, G., Petatán-Ramírez, D., Moreno-Baez, M., Godínez-Reyes, C.R., Torre, J. 2017. Designing connected marine reserves in the face of global warming. Global Change Biology: 1-21. Link: http://rdcu.be/Dd7H

Blog: Designing connected marine reserves in the face of global warming

Graduate students advance collaborations in synthesizing coding efforts for SES research

IASC_2017Graduate students affiliated with the Center for Behavior, Institutions, and the Environment (CBIE) organized an interdisciplinary panel at the 16th Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) to present follow-up work to the graduate student workshop “Breaking the Code: Synthesizing Coding Efforts for SES Research“.

The conference took place in July 2017 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Collaborators included CBIE affiliated graduate students Ute Brady, Elicia RatajczykSechindra ValluryCathy RubiñosMady TysonHoon Shin, Skaidra Smith-Heisters, and former ASU post-doc Michael Bernstein, as well as other emerging social and natural science scholars from various U.S., Canadian, and European universities.

Panel presentations outlined issues such as defining success in resource management (success for what and for whom?); dialogues between coding variables and frameworks in case studies of Common-pool Resources; the lack of inclusion of variables deemed to be important for SES analysis in resource database; and overcoming barriers for ‘commons’ scholars to share their data and research findings in a more consistent and easily accessible manner. The panel presentation also included suggestions as to how some of the identified problems related to SES governance may be addressed.

The ASU-CBIE team presented their work on the incorporation of coding variables into the structure of the Robustness Framework, which is now publicly accessible at a Wikisite that functions both as a portal for scholars interested in learning about common pool resource (CPR) methodologies and a forum for feedback on these variables. In doing so, the team aims to advance a common set of variables for SES analysis to foster better cross-comparisons of case studies involving natural resources and biodiversity preservation efforts.

The panel presentation was well attended and generated many interesting discussions with the potential for future collaborations. The team’s research efforts will certainly expand beyond their successful presentation at the IASC.

Breaking the code in social-ecological systems research

Graduate students affiliated with the Arizona State University’s Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment were active this summer organizing a global collaborative network of emerging researchers in the field of social ecological systems and common-pool resources with the goal of providing a more unified methodology to analyze and code coupled social-ecological systems (SES). Organized by Ute Brady and Elicia Ratajczyk from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, a team of graduate students and post-docs hosted a multi-day workshop on July 5-8 2016, through the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) in Annapolis, Maryland.


The resulting workshop entitled “Breaking the Code: Synthesizing Coding Efforts for SES Research” involved 71 remote and onsite participants, including graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty from sixteen universities in five different countries. ASU and the Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment were well represented, with four graduate students among the organizers (Ratajczyk, Brady, Mar Mancha-Cisneros, and Mady Tyson), one faculty member (J.M. Anderies) and two former affiliates (Jacopo Baggio, who is now an assistant professor at Utah State University, and Allain Barnett, assistant professor at the University of New Brunswick). The graduate student organizers held various satellite meetings before the workshop to increase the productivity and impact of the actual workshop.

In addition to the collaborative network that was developed, the group established a working group to support communication, resources, and advocacy for the network and an online collaboration platform. Several of the groups involved in the workshop have developed research agendas and outlines for the development of publications.

The work produced by this collaborative network of researchers will continue the legacy of the late Nobel Prize winner and CBIE founding director Elinor Ostrom, whose work inspired researchers around the world, many of whom have produced various and related datasets on social-ecological systems and common-pool resources which have yet to be organized.

Adaptation of biophysical principles for the design of marine reserves in the Gulf of California, Mexico


On March 10 – 12, 2015, a collaboration between Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), The Nature Conservancy-Mexico (TNC-Mexico) and science coordination of the PANGAS Ecosystem Management project, along with the Gulf of California Marine Program, organized a meeting to adapt biophysical principles for the design of marine reserves in the Gulf of California for conservation, fisheries and adaptation to climate change. The meeting was held in the city of La Paz, BCS, Mexico, and brought together Mexican government agencies that oversee non-fishing areas from the fisheries (INAPESCA) and conservation (CONANP) approach, civil society organizations that promote the establishment of marine reserves in the Gulf of California (COBICEDOPRONATURA NOROESTENIPARAJA) and academics who conduct scientific research in marine reserves (UABCSCICIMARUniversity of ArizonaArizona State University).

Although there are several recomendaciones around the world on biophysical principles for the design of marine reserves in terms of habitat representation, protection of critical sites, shape, size, location, distance between reserves, recovery time, etc., it is unknown if these recommendations are transferable between different regions or if it is necessary to adapt them locally. For example, an effort led by Dr. Allison Green and collaborators in 2014 proposed a series of biophysical and ecological principles for the design of marine reserve networks in coral reefs of tropical zones. Scientific studies over the past decade have highlighted that the Gulf of California has unique oceanographic features characterized by seasonal oceanographic gyres that generate strong ocean currents that maintain a single direction during part of the year and then reverse completely the rest of the time. For species of fish and invertebrates that present pelagic larval stages during their development, the strong currents that maintain defined directions make the geographical distance between sites in the Gulf of California not a good indicator of biological connectivity. A better approximation, for example, are oceanographic distances, which are those that take into account the direction of the currents. According to the reproductive season of each species, those rocky reefs that are “upstream” are key because they act as sources that influence the production and export of larvae to all other “downstream” sites. In a system such as the Gulf of California, the establishment of marine reserves located upstream from the predominant oceanographic circulation (according to the reproductive season of the species to be protected) could result in a more effective and robust network of marine reserves when compared to a selection of sites downstream that are oceanographically isolated or randomly chosen.


During the workshop, the team of experts of the Gulf of California analyzed the available scientific information that could justify a local adaptation of the principles, as well as the current situation of the region, identified important information and research gaps, and prepared a draft of principles was defined considering the unique geological, oceanographic, ecological and evolutionary characteristics of the Gulf of California. This draft will serve as the basis for a scientific publication documenting the process of adapting design principles of marine reserves to the Gulf of California. A follow-up workshop was held on January 12-13, 2016 to finalize the draft and prepare a manuscript for publication.

This initiative was supported mainly by The Nature Conservancy (TNC)Comunidad y Biodiversidad, A.C. (COBI) and the science coordination of the PANGAS project, and is funded by the TNC’s Marine Initiative of the Gulf of California and the North Pacific.