Letter to the Editor: Be Honest with Communities about MPAs

MPA News

Dear MPA News,

I am writing in response to the article on MPA communications in your May 2009 issue. One success factor for MPAs is the management of local community expectations. It is essential that we are honest with communities and local stakeholders about what an MPA can and cannot achieve:

  1. Be clear on what benefits the local resource users will get from the MPA. If the MPA will cover only 20 hectares of reef, for example, it may have little effect on fish populations on nearby reefs or on highly mobile fish stocks. If our long-range goal is to manage those populations, then once we have the 20-ha area managed we can begin to scale up management efforts to address issues for the adjacent coral reefs and pelagic fisheries.

  2. The MPA probably is not going to bring thousands of tourists, divers, or snorkelers to the village, nor treasure chests of foreign currency.

  3. MPA management is still an experiment. Although there are some good rules of thumb, we do not have all the science yet and we cannot predict exactly what is going to happen. We should use each MPA as a community experiment and learn as we go along in partnership with local stakeholders.

The reality, at least in the short term, is that the MPA is going to cost the community money and time, cause some anxiety and problems, and upset the status quo. However, MPAs are probably the best and simplest management tool we have. By ensuring that communities are aware of the realities from the beginning, they may not become disappointed later and MPAs should have a greater chance of success.

Stuart J. Green

(Stuart Green is a coastal and marine management consultant based in Bohol, Central Visayas, Philippines. E-mail: stuartjames.green [at] gmail.com)