Public discussion page for “Debating the effectiveness of marine protected areas” in ICES Journal of Marine Science (2017)

MPA News

The public comment area is down this page, following my brief thoughts here.

The fundamental purpose of MPA News is to help practitioners make their sites more effective. Sometimes this involves theoretical discussions, like What is effectiveness? Other times it involves more applied guidance, like how to build trust with stakeholders.

That purpose is why we've linked here to the special feature “Debating the effectiveness of marine protected areas” in ICES Journal of Marine Science. The feature provides some valuable blending of the theory and practice of MPA effectiveness. The result is focused (with concise points and counterpoints), useful (including some applied guidance from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park experience), and productive (finding some areas of common ground).

That being said, the feature acknowledges that its authors don't represent the full breadth of the global MPA community, and that a wider discussion of effectiveness would be worthwhile. In that light, I'd like to solicit MPA News readers' insights, drawing from your own diverse backgrounds and experience.

So please provide your feedback on the points and counterpoints in the journal’s coverage, and your thoughts on MPA effectiveness in theory and practice. Thank you! We may include selected contributions in a future issue of MPA News.

John Davis
Editor, MPA News


While I am glad to see the opening of the debate on MPAs and appreciate the invitation to comment, I am a bit puzzled by the below sentence: """Of course, compliance matters for MPAs and there is increasing confirmation that “stronger protection” yields better results (Cinner et al., 2014; Edgar et al., 2014; Kaplan et al., 2015; Gill et al., 2017) but enforcement is often difficult and adds additional costs to effective marine protection (Mora et al., 2006; Bergseth et al., 2017). Claudet (2017) argues that by erroneously assuming no take areas are free from poaching, the true benefits of strongly protected marine reserves are underestimated because more could be done to improve compliance.""

it appears that the authors make a difference between "protection" and enforcement. Not a native English speaker I see that these are two different words and I can even imagine cases where protection is something completely different than enforcement, for example when I protect my child from something that has nothing to do with enforcing a regulation or law, such as mosquito's. However, in this discussion, I wonder if the unclear sentence comes from uncertainty about the "appropriateness' of talking about enforcement for protection of areas under formal or informal regulations and rules of traditional or national law? the sentence starts with "of course" but then seems to weaken and in my view - confuse the matter. it gets even more confusing to me at least, when I read that enforcement adds costs to protection. what type of protection does not add costs I wonder? even protecting my child from mosquitos costs something - the price of a mosquito net and repellent for example.

I hope this comment is not taken the wrong way, it is great that this debate opens up, and I would really appreciate others thoughts on my question, whether we are feeling uncertain about discussing the enforcement part of MPA effectiveness. in my view and experience, failure of MPAs as a tool for biodiversity conservation and fisheries management, is always related to lack of 100% enforcing the rules (laws and/or traditional), and I worry that debating the effectiveness of MPAs - without being very clear about that - can result in incomplete and incorrect conclusions, with related "dropping of the ball" by foundations, other financial institutions, experts and NGOs on this very important strategy for preservation of our ocean's functions and life as we know it.

Hi:  In that sentence, we distinguish between enforcement and protection because protection may require a number of actions of which enforcement is just one.  The reason we point out that enforcement requires increased costs is because when we talk about MPAs as the most cost-effective type of marine protection, we often consider the outcomes of the very best MPAs (which involve considerable enforcement) but the costs of the average MPA.  I've yet to see a study that examines the cost-effectiveness of those MPAs that achieve the best outcomes.

Hope that clears things up.

The initiative by Linwood Pendleton and his co-authors to discuss the effectiveness of MPAs was a great idea – a much needed contribution at this time. 

One aspect that, for me, was missing was the wider context of the effectiveness of protected areas in general. The marine environment has specific characteristics that must be factored into establishing and managing protected areas in the oceans, but there are many commonalities with terrestrial protected areas that we should not overlook and that we can learn from. In a number of countries, the protected area system is considered as a single entity in concept (whilst different agencies and communities may be involved for land and sea protected areas), which helps to ensure that the land-sea interface is addressed. IUCN best practice guidance for protected areas is generally designed for national systems (see IUCN publications, with MPA-specific guidance made available for instances where particular aspects of the oceans, whether physical, ecological or governance, need to be considered (e.g. IUCN-WCPA, 2008). The separation between MPA practitioners and the non-marine protected area community is a pity – we need to collaborate and share experiences.

Management effectiveness and the conservation impact of protected areas have been as much topics of debate for non-marine sites as for MPAs. The apparent lack of success of protected areas is being felt on land as much as sea, with many parks and reserves recording declining wildlife populations (e.g. Craigie et al., 2010; Laurance et al., 2012) although, as with MPAs, where there is active management, good resources and adequate capacity the conservation impact can indeed be positive (Barnes et al., 2016; Gray et al., 2016). The question of what success and effectiveness might look like has similarly been extensively debated, much of this driven by Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which calls not only for a certain proportion of the planet to be set aside in protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2020, but also that these areas should be “effectively and equitably managed”. 

The debate on the meaning or definition of protected area “effective and equitable management”, and on how progress towards this might be measured, has led to the development of principles and standards for management, a raft of assessment methodologies (e.g. Hockings et al. 2006), and the establishment of the Global Database of Protected Area Management Effectiveness (Coad et al., 2015). Donor agencies such as the GEF require that assessments of management effectiveness are undertaken at intervals during protected area projects, and assessments are now being undertaken using a multitude of methods in nearly every country. These are yielding important information about the challenges that protected area managers face, many of which are common to marine, inland water and terrestrial protected areas.

However, such assessments do not necessarily address the core question of whether management is adequate for the protected area to meet its objectives (and whether the objectives are appropriate in ecological, socio-economic and cultural terms). The IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas (GLPCA) has been set up to address this and is designed to identify protected areas that meet a global standard ( This includes meeting their conservation goals, achieving effective management and facilitating equitable governance – which must be demonstrated according to a set of agreed criteria and minimum standards, appropriate to the local and national context. The Standard describes a set of Components, Criteria, and Indicators for successful conservation in protected areas and is aimed at providing an international benchmark for quality that will help to motivate improved performance.

Four MPAs (and 21 other protected areas) were provisionally listed as part of the pilot Green List programme (Wells et al., 2016). In the light of the ICES Journal debate which focused heavily on no-take MPAs, it is perhaps worth noting that the MPAs that made the Green List are all no-take or have a significant proportion of the area closed to fishing. Other MPAs are now joining the programme as candidates. Protected areas on the Green List will be re-assessed at regular intervals to ensure the Standard is still being met; the approach is analogous to that of the Marine and Forest Stewardship Councils. There are other initiatives that assess and recognise MPA success, such as GLORES (Hameed et al., 2017), but the GLPCA is the only global scheme that uses an accredited verification process. A GLPCA workshop was held at IMPAC4 to explain the process in the context of MPAs. The Standard is currently being revised to take account of comments received and lessons learned during the pilot phase and a subsequent global consultation.

So in addition to the recommendations for future work proposed by Pendleton et al., I would like to suggest that MPAs should be encouraged to assess their management effectiveness on a regular basis and that they should consider taking part in the IUCN GLPCA. And if you are involved with MPA management effectiveness initiatives, do consider joining the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas-Marine Task Force on the Green List and MPA Management Effectiveness, which has been set up to increase collaboration and information sharing and to promote effective management of MPAs ( 


Barnes MD, Craigie ID, Harrison LB, Geldmann J, Collen B, Whitmee S, Balmford A, Burgess ND, Brooks T, Hockings M, Woodley S. 2016.  Wildlife population trends in protected areas predicted by national socio-economic metrics and body size. Nat Commun. 7:12747. doi: 10.1038/ncomms12747.

Coad L, Leverington F, Knights K, Geldmann J, Eassom A, Kapos V, Kingston N, de Lima M, Zamora C, Cuardros I, et al. 2015. Measuring impact of protected area management interventions: current and future use of the Global Database of Protected Area Management Effectiveness. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 370: 20140281.

Craigie, I. D. et al. Large mammal population declines in Africa’s protected areas. Biol. Conserv. 143, 2221–2228 (2010).

Gray, C. L. et al. 2016. Local biodiversity is higher inside than outside terrestrial protected areas worldwide. Nat. Commun. 7:12306 doi:10.1038/ncomms12306.

Hameed SO, Cornick LA, Devillers R and Morgan LE (2017) Incentivizing More Effective Marine Protected Areas with the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES). Front. Mar. Sci. 4:208. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2017.00208

Hockings M, Stolton S, Leverington F, Dudley N, Courrau J. 2006. Evaluating Effectiveness: A Framework for Assessing Management Effectiveness of Protected Areas, IUCN: Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN-WCPA 2008. Establishing Resilient Marine Protected Area Networks —Making It Happen. IUCN- World Commission on Protected Areas, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Nature Conservancy: Washington, DC.

Laurance, W. F. et al. 2012. Averting biodiversity collapse in tropical forest protected areas. Nature 489, 290–294.

Wells, S., Addison, P. F. E., Bueno, P. A., Costantini, M., Fontaine, A., Germain, L., et al. (2016). Using the IUCN green list of protected and conserved areas to promote conservation impact through marine protected areas. Aquat. Conserv. Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 26, 24–44. doi: 10.1002/aqc.2679

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