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Conservation Biology Paper

Tyler Johnson

Conservation Biology


Tuesday, September 17, 2013


How effective are different types of protected areas at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services?


Protected areas, of all different types, are effective at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services when managed properly.  There are many different methods, or types, of protected areas and ways to protect areas.  Research has proved that ecosystems thrive when left alone, or are protected, and are harmed or limited when humans involve themselves through land development, pollution, overfishing, and many other invasive actions (Milder et al., 2008).  Land development hurts the environment through loss and division of habitat, damaging water habitats, and in some cases forcing native species to leave and superseding them with “generalist of non-native species” (Milder et al., 2008).  Protective areas can be extremely effective at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services if they are managed properly with the correct knowledge on which habitats/species need protection and how to protect them within a budget.

A protected area is a “clearly defined geographical space, recognized, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”, according to the International Union of Conservation of Nature.  The world’s arrangement of protected areas has developed exponentially the last 25 years, especially in developing countries where biodiversity is greatest (Naughton-Treves et al., 2005).  In a review of 49 protected tropical areas, the formation of parks has typically been effective at halting deforestation, an example of protected area effectiveness (Naughton-Treves et al., 2005).  The effectiveness of protected areas (when managed properly) at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services is covered in copious amounts of journal articles and other research.

South Africa struggles with insufficient freshwater supply, which leads one to question how their freshwater river systems are protected and managed.  In 2007, research was launched on South Africa’s main rivers, struggling ecosystems where 84% are threatened, and 54% critically endangered (Nel et al., 2007).  There are protected areas in place on these rivers, and the positive effects are apparent but not exactly good enough as only 50% of the rivers within protected areas are intact compared to 28% intact rivers in non-protected areas (Nel et al., 2007).  There is reasonable hope that protected areas can protect South Africa’s struggling rivers, but it appears that they need to be protected meritoriously and managed well.  A main problem with South Africa’s protected areas is that they use the rivers as boundaries of their protected areas, with less than 5% of main rivers protected on both sides (Nel et al., 2007).  It is important to note that there is a greater percentage of complete rivers within these protected areas than outside, and there is “marked improvement in overall river integrity inside protected areas compared to outside (Nel et al., 2007).”  This data shows that protected areas can work to restore and ensure the longevity of South Africa’s main rivers, but it is apparent that the management of these protected areas needs to be reconsidered to maximize effectiveness.  Protected areas should focus on protecting the tributaries, gathering a better understanding on dam releases, and expanding the existing protected areas to include the entire river system and not use the rivers as protected area boundaries, or 84% of South Africa’s 112 main river ecosystems will continue to be threatened (Nel et al., 2007).  The crisis in South Africa is a perfect example of the effectiveness of protected areas at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services when managed properly.

Another example of the potential effectiveness of protected areas if managed properly comes from Romania.  “Habitat disturbance, overexploitation, poaching, pollution, invasive species, disease, suboptimal protected area design, and lack of enforcement of conservation regulations all plague Romanian conservation (Ioan et al., 2013)”.  Romania is currently 19.3% protected, a huge increase from 25 years ago when only 4.1% of the country was protected.  The environmental protection includes 27 National Parks, and 382 protected areas under the new pan-European Natura 2000 network (Ioan et al., 2013).  The protected areas should ensure long lasting prosperity for most of Romania’s animals including:  22 of 23 reptile species, 41 of 44 mammal species, 168 of 193 bird species, and all but 16 plant species (Ioan et al., 2013).  The only problem is that disturbances such as overhunting, poaching, and introduction of invasive species still occurs in these protected areas because of lack of enforcement of conservation regulations, little knowledge on species, and financial issues (Ioan et al., 2013).  So while studies show the obvious effectiveness of protected areas at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services, it must be noted that the management of these protected areas is equally as imperative to protecting a successful environment.  While Romania has an adequate amount of protected area, they may rather want to focus their conservation efforts on sites that are used the most by animals, and sites of endangered habitat or species to maximize the protected areas effectiveness.

While Romania has a sizeable amount of protected area but improper management, the marine life in the Philippines has neither.  Coral reefs are becoming one of the main victims of climate change, and these ecosystems that house the most species dense vertebrate communities on earth that contribute to so many things outside themselves, such as ecosystem services to human societies in tropical areas, are struggling to survive without properly managed protection (Graham et al., 2008).  There is a need for conservation in the future and better management efforts to target and protect certain marine ecosystems, and these efforts should be integrated into managing frameworks that are already in place, with the addition of policies to increase the resilience to climate change and other threats to marine life (Graham et al, 2008).  The Philippines, a tropical ecosystem extraordinaire, is not as protected as it should be, and the result is much less than extraordinary.  In 1998, the Fisheries Code Legislation called for 15% of the water with 15 km of the shore to be protected (a marine protected area or MPA), and the Philippine Marine Sanctuary Strategy hopes to protect 10% of the coral reef within these MPAs by 2020 (Weeks et al., 2010).  The problem is there are not enough MPAs in the Philippines to meet these not-too-lofty goals, as there is evidence that “even small MPAs provide some recruitment benefits with and close to their boundaries (Weeks et al., 2010).”  The way things were in the Philippines in 2010 when this article was published made the future of marine biodiversity look rather dim, unless more MPAs were administered.  The study shows that only up to 3.4% of coral reefs are protected with the MPAs, much less than the hoped for 10%.  This means there needs to be an additional 2,030km^2 of “no-take area” to effectively conserve biodiversity and provide ecosystem services in the Philippines.  In fact, all of the Philippines no-take areas must be expanded to support the future, as their average no-take zone is a measly 0.12km^2 compared to an average 4.6km^2 globally (Weeks et al., 2010).  The Philippines are home to many sizeable, peripatetic species that need the protection of a protected area but are not receiving it with such small MPAs.  While the MPAs are effective at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services in their small areas, it has become vital that the Philippines introduces policy to expand their MPAs and no-take zones to meet their own goals that they have set for the future, and to provide a livable ecosystem for their marine life that provides many other benefits such as tourism.

Tourism isn’t the only benefit of a healthy marine ecosystem, as about 25% of eastern Thai-landers on the coast rely on fishing to support their families (Lunn et al., 2006).  The only problem with this is that the fishermen are using 95% of the water “protected” by Ko Chang Marine National Park, a protected area, because they are apparently unaware (Lunn et al., 2006).  Not only do the fishermen need to become aware that a protected area can not be effective at conserving biodiversity if it is not protected, understanding of “needs and usage patterns” needs to be made by management to work cohesively with the fishermen that rely on the waters to survive.  This will also help with zoning plans, and “developing effective zoning plans requires information on the condition and uses of marine resources and the conflicts among them (Lunn et al., 2006).”  The predicament in the waters of Thailand is yet another example of how potentially effective protected areas are when in place, but if they are not managed properly to conserve biodiversity and provide ecosystem services for humans and the marine animals then they are basically useless.

Journal article after journal article support the use and expansion of protected areas, and a large majority stress that management of these areas is just as important as designating the areas in the first place.  One article about freshwater protected areas said this that they are “unconditionally supporting the call for a significant expansion of protected areas for freshwater ecosystems” and want to “look more widely and find further reasons for improving the management of freshwater ecosystems (Finlayson et al., 2006)”.  The research from this article, and the other sources included in this paper support my thesis, that protected areas, of all different types, are effective at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services when managed properly.  It is noted that humanity needs to use its resources wiser, and in the case of wetlands, “wise use encompasses the concept of ‘sustainable development’ and ‘maintenance of the ecological character’ of all wetlands (Finlayson et al., 2006)”.  So while the population on earth grows and expansion continues, we have to be more efficient in our use of protected areas.  This means more research, more funding, and more attention to certain areas and species that need the protection the most.  If managed properly, protected areas can be effective at conserving the world to an extent.  “If we are to maintain these [ecological] services we need to fully embrace the wider concept of protected areas and encompass the sustainable use of natural ecosystems (Finlayson et al., 2006).”

While it is heavily documented that protected areas are effective at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services, more consideration of the positives of protected areas needs to be made.  “Greater attention must also be paid to the broader policy context of biodiversity loss, poverty, and unsustainable land use in developing countries (Naughton-Treves et al., 2005)”.  With knowledge comes power, and if the public knows the effects of a thriving bio diverse community on their socioeconomic standing they may put more energy and funds into managing the protected areas around them.  Protected areas have an immediate impact on national development and poverty (Naughton-Treves et al., 2005), which should be a red flag to most communities for some more attention and better management.

There is no doubt that protected areas are expanding, as the U.S. government along with private organizations invested $3.26 billion in biodiversity conservation in Latin America between 1990-1997, 35% of that money going to protected areas (Naughton-Treves et al., 2005).  Obviously more money has been spent since then, and the protected areas have undoubtedly grown even larger.  This is hope for most conservationists, as such a large sum of money can help almost any cause.  There is no question that governments around the world agree that protected areas are effective at conserving biodiversity and providing ecosystem services.  The question that remains is:  Is all of the money put toward expansions of protected areas working as hard as it should, and are the protected areas being managed in a way that maximizes their potential in a developing world?  Once this no longer remains a question around the world, humanity can rest assured that their conservation efforts pertaining to protected areas are helping to conserve biodiversity and protect ecosystem services in an ever developing world.


Finlayson, Max. “Freshwater Protected Areas: Blackwell Publishing Asia Can We Expand Our Options to Include Private Wetlands?” Ecological Management & Restoration 07.02 (2006): 77-79. Print.

Graham, Nicholas A. J., Tim R. McClanahan, M. Aaron MacNeil, Shaun K. Wilson, Nicholas V. C. Polunin, Simon Jennings, Pascale Chabanet, Susan Clark, Mark D. Spalding, Yves Letourneur, Lionel Bigot, René Galzin, Marcus C. Öhman, Kajsa C. Garpe, Alasdair J. Edwards, and Charles R. C. Sheppard. “Climate Warming, Marine Protected Areas and the Ocean-Scale Integrity of Coral Reef Ecosystems.” Ed. Rob P. Freckleton. PLoS ONE 3.8 (2008): E3039. Print.

Ioan Ioja, Cristian, Maria Patroescu, Laurentiu Rozylowicz, Viorel D. Popescu, Mircea Verghelet, Mihai Iancu Zotta, and Mihaela Feliuc. “The Efficacy of Romania’s Protected Areas Network in Conserving Biodiversity.” The Efficacy of Romania’s Protected Areas Network in Conserving Biodiversity. Biological Conservation, 06 July 2010. Web. 13 Sept. 2013. Print.

Lunn, Kristin, and Philip Dearden. “Fishers’ Needs in Marine Protected Area Zoning: A Case Study from Thailand.” Coastal Management 34.2 (2006): 183-98. Print.

Milder, Jeffrey C., James P. Lassoie, and Barbara L. Bedford. “Conserving Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function through Limited Development: An Empirical Evaluation.” Conservation Biology 22.1 (2008): 70-79. Print.

Naughton-Treves, Lisa, Margaret Buck Holland, and Katrina Brandon. “The Role Of Protected Areas In Conserving Biodiversity And Sustaining Local Livelihoods.” Annual Review of Environment and Resources 30.1 (2005): 219-52. Print.

Nel, Jeanne L., Dirk J. Roux, Gillian Maree, Cornelius J. Kleynhans, Juanita Moolman, Belinda Reyers, Mathieu Rouget, and Richard M. Cowling. “Rivers in Peril inside and outside Protected Areas: A Systematic Approach to Conservation Assessment of River Ecosystems.” Diversity and Distributions 13.3 (2007): 341-52. Print.

Weeks, Rebecca, Garry R. Russ, Angel C. Alcala, and Alan T. White. “Effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas in the Philippines for Biodiversity Conservation.” Conservation Biology 24.2 (2010): 531-40. Print.


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