USFSP Master's Theses (Graduate)


Kyle Flanagan

First Advisor

Major Professor: Dr. Barnali Dixon

Second Advisor

Dr. Chris Stallings

Third Advisor

Dr. Donny Smoak


University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Document Type




Publication Date


Date Issued

July 7, 2017


Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), important for their ecology, ecosystem services, and aesthetics, are portions of the marine environment set aside for limited or no extraction, close monitoring of resources, and protection from anthropogenic impacts. They are established based on ecological and economic characteristics and needs, and are assessed through adaptive management where success targets are set by comparison with control areas; a method considering ecological interactions within coastal MPA boundaries, but without integrating and incorporating the detrimental effects of runoff-derived inputs (sediments and nutrients) from adjacent watersheds. It is widely accepted that all organisms, humans included, live downstream of other environments, which makes the conditions of upstream environments very important. With expanding knowledge on the interconnectivity of environments many protected areas are moving toward forms of ecosystem-based management. Studies show that MPA success can be linked to water quality derived from watersheds, and many sediments, nutrients, and toxins that negatively affect coastal ecosystems originate on land from anthropogenic activities including landuse and increased impervious cover. The objective of this thesis is to provide evidence for the need to reexamine how the success of coastal MPAs are evaluated to include the interconnectedness of coastal MPAs and adjacent watersheds using empirical evidence such as water quality and flow so that they can be holistically managed. Empirical evidence based on water quality and flow was used to examine the link between watersheds and their downstream coastal ecosystems, and to modify the classification of traditional success rubrics for six Florida ii coastal MPAs. Traditionally rubrics for MPAs base success on the presence or absence of plans to address set administrative, socioeconomic, and biophysical goals. This research examined the potential for modification of a traditional MPA success rubric by expanding biophysical goals to include empirical data to link the interconnection and downstream effects of adjacent watersheds including urbanization/impervious cover (IC). Six MPAs off the coasts of Florida were selected for study based on their protection goals, size, age, and location in relationship to urbanized areas: Gulf Islands National Seashore (GINS), Alligator Harbor Aquatic Preserve (AHAP), St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge (SMNWR), Pinellas County Aquatic Preserves (PCAP), Rookery Bar National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNERR), and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (JPCRSP). MPA success results were correlated with adjacent watershed urbanization/ IC. A negative relationship between MPA biophysical goal achievement and the urbanization/IC of their adjacent watersheds was discovered. MPAs adjacent to watersheds with a high average urban cover of 32.5% and IC of 10.1% scored an average 37.9% success rate, while MPAs adjacent to watersheds with a low average urban cover of 4.9% and IC of 1.5% scored an average 66.7% success rate. A statistically significant negative correlation was found between both watershed urbanization (p=0.036) and IC (p=0.04) with MPA rubric success at α = 0.05. Self-evaluations by managers of the MPAs followed a traditional rubric based on the presence or absence of plans to address set goals, and reported 100% success rates for all study sites. Empirical data suggested a potential link between watershed development and MPA success, while showing the disparity between MPA self-evaluation successes and the adapted rubric based on biophysical goal achievement. It was hypothesized that urbanized watersheds discharge poorer quality water to downstream MPAs than watersheds with less urbanization thus negatively impacting iii MPA success. A temporal pair-wise comparison using LULC data from the 1992 and 2011 National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD) at the hydrologic unit code (HUC) 8 scale was performed comparing simulated water quality discharged into Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge (LSNWR) and Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserves (CHAP) using the soil and water assessment tool (SWAT). It was expected that SWAT results would show declines in water quality discharged to LSNWR while water quality discharged to CHAP would remain relatively constant since the LSNWR watershed increased in urbanization 13.4% since 1992 and the CHAP watershed changed by only 0.8%. This would provide evidence of an inverse relationship between urban landuse coverage of adjacent watersheds and water quality discharged to MPAs, which could serve as the link in correlating watershed development to decreased MPA success. The SWAT satisfactorily modeled watershed discharges into LSNWR and CHAP with Nash-Sutcliffe goodness of fit (NSE) validations of .63 and .64, respectively. Declines in sediment and nutrient discharges were seen from both LSNWR and CHAP watersheds during the study period, and were significantly correlated with decreased water discharge (α = 0.05). The declines in flow were also significantly correlated to precipitation decreases (α = 0.05). These correlations indicated rainfall and runoff in watersheds as a major medium for downstream sediment and nutrient transport and discharge. No significant link was found between urbanization and total sediment and nutrient discharge, however, urbanization was significantly correlated to sediment and nutrient concentrations (α = 0.05). This may indicate urbanized areas as a major source of sediments and nutrients entering stream systems, and suggest that uncontrolled watershed urbanization poses a threat to water quality. Results indicated that watershed conditions and discharge when incorporated with the modified rubric could be affecting MPA success by impacting water quality. iv Further, results suggested that the conceptual framework used for this research along with the application of SWAT could be used for watershed-based planning to minimize downstream and coastal impacts of adjacent watersheds, and help coordination between land managers and coastal system/marine managers. With watershed loading acting as a major contributor of sediment and nutrient flow into MPAs and a negative relationship discovered between the biophysical goal achievement of six MPAs and the urbanization/IC of their adjacent watersheds, it is recommended that management expand their scope to include the interconnectivity of coastal systems, water quality, and landuse. The current method of coastal MPA success evaluation does not afford a simple and direct way to link coastal MPAs to adjacent watersheds. Since the majority of pollutants that flow into coastal MPAs originate from land-based anthropogenic sources, land and coastal managers need to work together to improve the success of MPAs by treating them like the open system they are. Simulation analyses of loading and impacts could predict the outcomes of different landuse policies and practices. Determining the spatial distributions of MPAs and anthropogenic pressures would allow the risk from human impacts to be predicted and addressed, hence minimized. MPA managers could then apply spatially-specific practices that would improve success.


Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science Environmental Science and Policy College of Arts and Sciences University of South Florida St. Petersburg

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.