MPA News Poll: What Qualities Make a Good MPA Manager?

MPA News

The job of the MPA manager is a challenging one. Despite shortages of funds and personnel in many cases, the manager is expected to administer a site effectively, including managing resource threats and juggling stakeholder interests. To do the job well requires people with special skills, backgrounds, or personalities.

For insights on finding such people, MPA News consulted a range of practitioners and other experts in the MPA field. Each was asked a single question: What quality or qualities make a good MPA manager? Below are their answers, in their words:


Nirmal Jivan Shah

Chief executive, Nature Seychelles [NGO], Seychelles. Shah was the first director of the Conservation and National Parks Service of the Seychelles.

The qualities of a good MPA manager are having the foresight of a prophet, the patience of a saint, and the understanding of a psychiatrist.


Sue Wells

Private consultant, UK. Wells is former coordinator of the Marine and Coastal Programme of the IUCN Eastern Africa Regional Office, and remains active with it. She has helped create a training course and toolkit for MPA managers in the Western Indian Ocean (MPA News 5:4).

A good MPA manager has the qualities that define good managers of any organization or business. I think that conservationists and scientists often forget that protected areas are essentially businesses and that many of the best practices for good business management need to be applied to the running of an MPA. Technical expertise in marine issues is important, but in terms of making an MPA effective, general managerial skills may be even more essential.

In our work in the Western Indian Ocean, we have recommended that managers consult websites on good business management. An online article titled "What Makes a Great Manager", for example, is available at http://www.ee.ed.ac.uk/~gerard/Management. It points out that "common sense" is the first key requirement of any good manager, which I would strongly endorse.


Kalli De Meyer

Executive director, Coral Resource Management, Bonaire. De Meyer is former director of the Bonaire National Marine Park.

Some of the most successful tropical marine park managers I have come across have come out of the dive industry or have a background including time spent in the tourism sector. I think this is because, while we kid ourselves that we are "resource managers", we are in fact managing people. Those who have worked successfully in dive tourism are good communicators. They are also personable, can organize themselves and others, may already have management experience, understand basic accounting, know about marketing and public relations, and are not easily daunted.


Richard Kenchington

Visiting professor, Maritime Policy Centre, University of Wollongong, Australia. Kenchington is chair of the board of the International Coral Reef Action Network and a former executive director of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Acceptance that managing environments is managing people is a fundamental quality that should enlighten all levels of MPA management. The core objectives of MPAs generally relate to maintenance of biodiversity and ecosystem processes. However, the threats, cause of the problems, and means of management relate to human behaviors. Achieving the objectives often involves time to achieve major changes in the substance and balance of human behaviors, values, attitudes, and dependencies.

So the key qualities of a manager are:

  • Capability, capacity, courage, and persistence to work with and through people whose lives and values are linked with the MPA;
  • Capacity to identify, prioritize, and address internal and external impacts, threats, and opportunities, recognizing the relevant scales of space, time, societal values, and development needs; and
  • Intolerance of paper parks and a commitment to reasonably enforceable and enforced MPAs.

Tomas Camarena

Policy expert, Environmental Defense [NGO], USA. Camarena is former director of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve and other MPAs in Mexico.

Administrative skills are essential. These include areas as diverse as:

  • Short-, medium- and long-term planning;
  • Making efficient use of personnel, money, and equipment;
  • Hiring personnel with adequate profiles;
  • Fundraising, which may sometimes be the primary task of the MPA manager; and
  • Conflict resolution, both for social conflicts in the field and administrative conflicts within the MPA or with local, regional, and national agencies.

Marine skills, such as seamanship, scuba diving, knowledge in mechanics (outboards, compressors, generators, diesel, etc.) can also help a lot in being accepted in the confined world of fishers, and are very helpful in the best use of limited resources.


Tundi Agardy

Executive director, Sound Seas (NGO), USA. Agardy has worked for more than 20 years on coastal conservation and sustainable resource use issues worldwide. She serves on a US federal advisory committee on implementation of MPAs.

The power of the individual in determining the success of an MPA cannot be overstated. We spend an awful lot of time and resources discussing optimal MPA design, perfect processes, and best practices. But when it comes down to it, having a committed individual driving the whole thing is key, and we usually just shrug off this fact of life.

Second, a capacity for empathy is important. Aside from having this sort of personality, empathy can be gained through previous work in one of the sectors being managed (fishing, for example) or one of the management activities (law enforcement, for example).

Third, the best MPA managers know how to delegate authority, manage staffs well, and maintain a sense of humor - crucial in these difficult times!


Marjaana Kokkonen and Steven Ripley

UNESCO World Heritage Centre, France. Kokkonen is a natural heritage specialist, while Ripley advises managers of World Heritage sites.

A good manager should be enthusiastic about the job and have a firm belief in the objective of conservation of the site. A manager who views his position as simply a "9-to-5" job is more likely to look for other employment as soon as funding for the site runs into any difficulties. In addition, in cases where this person leads a team, the manager who demonstrates total commitment to the site is better able to lead by example and motivate his team.


Bill Ballantine

Marine biologist, Leigh Marine Laboratory, New Zealand. Ballantine has been instrumental in the designation of several no-take marine reserves in New Zealand waters, although he has not been an MPA manager. He notes that his response is in the context of marine reserves, not multi-use MPAs.

Most managers of marine reserves know that their three most important tasks are enforcement of the rules, education of the general public, and monitoring of marine life. Some managers treat these as separate matters, but good managers know they are inextricably linked. Effective enforcement, for example, depends on the active interest of the general public. Such support depends on the provision of interesting information about the marine life. Suitable information can only be obtained by monitoring.

Professional rangers, trained educators, and research scientists are expensive. The official budget is never adequate, and reducing activity to fit these is simply admitting defeat. Good managers realize that they can use the public and special interest groups to do much of the work. Such people do not require payment but they do need active support and encouragement. Poaching and other illegal acts are unlikely in the presence of schoolchildren, trainee divers, fish watchers, research students, amateur photographers, snorkeling tourists, etc., and such groups will report any infringements. They can be encouraged to make maps and species lists, design posters and pamphlets, and record all kinds of useful and interesting information. Where such groups do not yet exist, good managers help create them.


Nancy Dahl-Tacconi

Ph.D. candidate, University of Queensland, Australia. Dahl-Tacconi is conducting research on management effectiveness of MPAs in Indonesia.

Good managers are receptive. They are open to a range of different kinds of information, options, and ideas, and recognize the importance and power of broad understanding. So they seek out this range of input to improve their own management capacity. By inspiring transparent and fluid communications based on mutual respect and trust, they encourage a pragmatic appreciation of complexity and uncertainty among their staff and stakeholders.

Good managers are also sagacious. They are perceptive, discerning, and tactful in the way they develop strategies and partnerships, resolve conflicts, and facilitate negotiations. They base their decisions on the fruits of their receptiveness and they adapt their approaches in a sensible and rational way, based on an understanding of priorities and an analysis of a variety of alternatives.


Doug Yurick

Chief, Marine Program Unit, Parks Canada. Yurick coordinates work to establish new national marine conservation areas for Parks Canada as well as other activities in support of the program.

Management of an MPA should focus clearly on achieving stated goals and objectives. The successful MPA manager recognizes that to achieve this result, a foremost requirement is to maintain open dialogue with partner agencies and stakeholders in order to obtain consensus on the wide array of management and planning issues that will affect his or her ability to achieve success. Accordingly, strong interpersonal, communication, and negotiating skills are of fundamental importance.

As well, the successful manager should possess a comprehensive understanding of MPA management principles and issues - including those ecological, socioeconomic and cultural considerations relevant to his or her site, with most of these extending beyond the MPA into adjacent waters, lands, and communities. Such awareness must not be static but adaptable to changing circumstances, as must be the MPA management that it will inform.


BOX: Management integrity

In an essay in our February 2001 issue (MPA News 2:7), Graeme Kelleher, a senior advisor to the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, described lessons learned from the successful management of MPAs. Kelleher offered the following lesson for managers:

"The most important attribute of an MPA manager is integrity. Many managers have made the mistake of believing that they can fool some of the people some (or even all) of the time. The consequence of this is that the manager appears to win a series of battles, but he or she loses the war because of the accumulation of loss of trust. This eventually leads to failure."