MPA Perspective: Developing Capacity-Building Programs to Meet the Needs of Regional MPAs

MPA News

Editor's note: Anne Walton is coordinator of the International MPA Management Capacity Building Program, managed by the (US) National Marine Sanctuary Program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

By Anne Walton

Many MPA managers and policy makers, including local and indigenous communities, have insufficient access to information and guidelines coming out of science, traditional knowledge, and field experience to manage MPAs effectively. In the past there has been little opportunity to share what seasoned resource managers have learned from their own experience with other managers and staff.

The International MPA Management Capacity Building Program provides a framework for resource managers to come together, share lessons learned, and improve management effectiveness. Managed by the (US) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the program is centered around training courses that bring together practitioners from around the world in an interactive learning environment. The focus is on building effectively managed MPAs and MPA networks through regional training and strategic support for individual sites.

The program has two regional projects underway, in the South China Sea and in the Eastern Tropical Pacific. (A third project, still in the planning stage, will be sited in the Pacific Islands region.) These regions were selected based on a number of criteria:

  • Regional practitioners had expressed a need for capacity building;
  • A legal and management framework was in place;
  • Basic infrastructure needs were already met; and
  • Regional MPA authorities were willing to support knowledge- and skill-based development for the purpose of moving toward an effectively managed MPA network.

Once the criteria were met for the South China Sea and Eastern Tropical Pacific, NOAA identified local, regional, and national NGOs and agencies to partner on capacity building for the respective regions. These partners became the advisory body to each project, acting as host and providing logistical and professional support. Following an assessment, NOAA tailored a curriculum to the needs of the regional MPAs. Generally each project was built around training needs (skill and knowledge development), with a complement of site-specific programs such as management planning support, study exchanges, and advanced technical training. NOAA has made a commitment to each region of 18 months to 2 years, minimum, to follow through on the capacity building.

For the South China Sea Project, 35 MPA practitioners from China, Vietnam, and Cambodia gathered for two weeks in 2005 with an international team of trainers from Australia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and the US. The curriculum addressed eight topical areas, covering such varied subjects as enforcement, sustainable tourism, communicating with the media, community-based management, and fisheries issues. Each practitioner was required to build an "implementation contract" - a commitment to implement one strategy from each of the eight topical areas over the next one to two years. In June 2006, a mid-term workshop was held to evaluate progress made on the implementation contracts and share lessons learned. In December 2006, participants gathered again for a workshop, focusing this time on sustainable tourism. The outcome of this third meeting was the design of eight demonstration projects on sustainable tourism in MPAs to be implemented in Cambodia, China, and Vietnam over the next year. More training events are scheduled in each of the three countries in coming months.

The Eastern Tropical Pacific project convened 39 MPA practitioners from Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama in November 2006 to focus on sustainable tourism at their MPAs. The curriculum addressed such issues as visitor impacts, zoning, marketing, visitor education, and stakeholder participation. Each participant was required to build a demonstration project to implement at least one management strategy over the ensuing 12 months. Two more workshops are scheduled for the coming year: one on sustainable fisheries, and one on monitoring, research, education, and outreach.

For more information on the program, including a downloadable curriculum from each of the training projects (in English and other languages), reports and evaluations, and stories of lessons learned by participants, go to http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/management/international/mpa.html.

For more information:
Anne Walton, NOAA/NMSP, 4370 Kukui Grove St., Suite 206, Lihue, HI 96766, USA. Tel: +1 808 246 2177; E-mail: Anne.Walton [at] noaa.gov


Box: Lessons learned about training

By Anne Walton

Although participants in each of the two pilot projects (South China Sea and Eastern Tropical Pacific) represent very different cultural, political, and natural settings, they are all MPA practitioners struggling with similar challenges. In sponsoring both pilot projects, NOAA itself learned lessons from each:

  • A residential program in an isolated setting (dining, recreating, and relaxing together) creates continual opportunities for sharing information, discussing issues, and building social networks that last beyond the training.
  • Pick a setting that serves as a laboratory for the training: real-life experiences are valuable training tools.
  • Interactive, participatory learning where everyone is both teacher and student is an effective learning method as long as the course structure is maintained.
  • Case studies and references should, to the extent possible, be drawn from local and regional examples; very few MPAs can relate to the scope and scale of very large MPAs, as are found in some developed nations.
  • The most effective facilitators are those who come from the field and have struggled with the same issues and learned lessons from their own MPAs.
  • Training alone does not build capacity. Capacity building is multi-faceted and requires a range of approaches, such as study exchanges between sites or working with small teams at the site level.