The science of where to situate MPAs in temperate waters is still very much developing and studies have, to date, been largely based on estimated tidal movements (see here for an example). However, the situation is a lot more complex. Estimated tidal movements alone do not provide the full picture in relation to, for example, how larval dispersal takes place in a particular environment. Recent research on larval dispersal of intertidal organisms shows that differing roles of particular sites as larval ‘sinks’ and ‘sources’ need to be taken into account in order to fully understand dispersal patterns. Understanding such dispersal patterns is necessary to accurately design and locate networks of MPAs so that the biological goals of such MPAs (which will include the recovery or maintenance of fish stocks) can be achieved. However, studies such as this research have not generally been taken into consideration for MPA design and location up to now. An exception is a recent study by Marine Scotland Science. While this is a positive step forward, such work is still in its infancy and needs further refinement to work well in coastal areas.
I am grateful to Dr Tom Adams for comments on this piece.