As marine conservation activities intensify, planners and managers of protected areas are finding themselves with few guidelines or tools that are specific to the marine realm. Consequently the principles, criteria, and practices, of terrestrial protected areas tend to be transferred to the seas, where they are often inappropriate. In contrast to the situations with at all comparable sites on land, there is a sad shortage of published material on the application of ecological principles to the design and management of marine protected areas.
Using the example of coral reefs, guidelines are presented here in the hope that they will elicit comment and stimulate the publication of similar guidelines for different marine environments.
Coral-reef protected-area boundaries must fulfil two requirements: they must include appropriate coral-reef, confluent and neighbouring habitats, and a sufficient area of each. The first requirement defines the type, and the second the quantity, of habitats to be included in a protected area. Studies in the Chagos Archipelago, Indian Ocean, indicate that, there, the core zone of a protected coral-reef area should encompass 300 ha of diverse reef habitats if preservation of biotic diversity is the principal objective. The buffer-zone size needed will vary according to activities planned within the area, the extent of neighbouring coastal habitats, and the proximity of up-current or otherwise ‘linked’ sources of potential contamination.