What Are the Main Challenges Facing the MPA World?

MPA News

Underlying each edition of MPA News is a question: namely, what are the challenges that MPA practitioners face in aspects of MPA planning and management, and how are they addressing those challenges? Whether a particular article involves building MPA networks, or addressing an oil spill, or partnering with indigenous populations (to name some topics from this year's issues), the responses from practitioners are enlightening and are woven into the article.

Occasionally, however, we take a broader approach, asking practitioners for their insights on the main challenges facing the field. Below are responses from four experts, each of whom answered in the context of a particular country, region, or the field as a whole.


Challenge facing MPAs in Caribbean: Lack of political will

Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, Senior Program Officer, Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW), UNEP Caribbean Region, Jamaica. E-mail: avk [at] cep.unep.org

The lack of political will is at the core of the many challenges that MPAs face in the Caribbean. From this lack of will stems the fact that management is weak or nonexistent for many, if not most, of the designated MPAs in the region. The resources (financial and human) are not being provided to help MPAs meet the conservation objectives for which they were established.

The true value (economic, ecological, cultural, aesthetic, etc.) of the natural resources protected within MPAs is not recognized by the politicians, decision-makers, or civil society at large. This is partly our own fault: environmentalists and scientists have not been creative or strategic enough in delivering the messages. The links between the MPAs and their economic importance to a country (supporting tourism, fisheries, coastal protection, and more) are not sufficiently emphasized. Nor are the vulnerability and fragility of the resources being protected. This has not been embedded in the internal national planning processes of nations.

Once MPAs are designated, they are all too often treated as if they are on their own, and must find solutions in isolation on how to survive. This means surviving not only in the financial sense, but also surviving among all the development pressures around them, as well as changing and conflicting policies and more. MPA objectives are being undermined by development and other actions endorsed by the same policy-makers who designated the MPAs in the first place.

Even when there are external financial resources to support/strengthen MPAs, management often doesn't have the capacity to handle and manage the funds. They don't have the basic infrastructure, staffing, or even information to enable them to receive funds from donors. Again, this could all be changed with sufficient political will.


Challenge facing large remote MPAs: Surveillance and enforcement

Jeff Ardron, High Seas Director and Co-Lead on Surveillance and Enforcement of Remote Maritime Areas Project, Marine Conservation Institute, Washington, DC, US. E-mail: Jeff.Ardron [at] marine-conservation.org

The main challenge facing large remote MPAs is ensuring compliance in an affordable manner. This is particularly so for fisheries vessels, which are currently exempt from most international shipping reporting requirements. It is not that remote surveillance and enforcement need to be expensive, but rather that existing fisheries management systems suffer from two anachronisms that make it expensive: 1) they often do not consider remotely gathered evidence as sufficient for a successful prosecution; and 2) they allow offshore fishing activity a level of secrecy that it should not have.

Regarding the first impediment: this reluctance to accept data/evidence from new and emerging remote technologies - such as autonomous underwater vessels, acoustic recorders, mandatory automatic identification systems, and more - means that enforcement is largely confined to using conventional boats and planes that are very expensive, especially when sent hundreds of miles offshore. This makes it all but certain that illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing will continue. While there will always be a need for conventional enforcement like boats and planes, the time has come to expand the surveillance and enforcement toolkit.

Regarding the second impediment: states are increasingly aware that offshore fishing vessels, with all their data secrecy and exemptions from international shipping requirements, pose the potential for significant maritime security risks. Unless these loopholes are closed, they allow for an incident to occur that could impact national or international security and safety. Vessel monitoring systems (VMS), currently the option of choice for remote fisheries management, could soon become obsolete unless flag states and fisheries authorities are willing to share the data on a near-real-time basis, and to increase the reporting rate to something useful for true maritime enforcement, like 10- or 15-minute pings. (It is hard to tell what a vessel is doing if the VMS pings only once every hour.) National and international maritime security is an increasing concern and will soon trump the antiquated notion that fisheries should be treated differently from other maritime shipping. (For more background on this: http://pacmara.org/surveillance-and-enforcement-of-remote-maritime-areas.)

In this transition to integrated "maritime domain awareness" (i.e., a government's effective understanding of everything associated with its maritime domain) across agencies in the interest of security, the major threat to large remote MPAs - IUU fishing - could largely be addressed. The only remaining issue would be if fisheries authorities are willing to participate in integrated maritime management, with multi-agency sharing of data streams.


Challenges facing MPAs in Japan: Communicating science and strengthening local MPAs

Takaomi Kaneko and Mitsutaku Makino, Researchers, Fisheries Research Agency, Japan. E-mail: takaomi [at] affrc.go.jp

One challenge is the difficulty of coordinating the various interests of local stakeholders, which is inevitable for introducing new MPAs in Japan. Such "interests coordination processes" often become the barrier against adoption of fundamental and drastic measures needed to change the marine environmental situation. In support of protective management actions, scientists often try to explain the fruits of ecosystem conservation or biological diversity to all stakeholders, but it is very difficult. Ideally, periodic revisions and adaptive improvements of MPA design should be based on the best scientific knowledge available.

Another challenge relates to autonomous MPAs (AMPAs), a type of MPA in Japan that is implemented based on local initiatives. Such AMPAs usually have weak binding powers, so if some stakeholders break the rule, they may be not punished. This leads to moral hazards. Local government should provide legal support for AMPAs: for example, the users of ecosystem services, including the fishing industry, should be held accountable for sustainable use and this should be clarified in the legal framework.


Challenge facing MPAs globally: A false sense of security

Peter Jones, Senior Lecturer, Department of Geograhy, University College London, UK. E-mail: p.j.jones [at] ucl.ac.uk

A big challenge is to ensure that MPAs are effectively implemented. I worry that we could lull ourselves into a false sense of security because we are moving towards some notional target for MPA percentage area coverage (namely to meet national goals under the Convention on Biological Diversity). This is particularly through the push for more and bigger MPAs, many of which are for areas not particularly threatened, are not being effectively protected, or are politically and socially unsustainable, as in cases where MPAs are designated over the objection of local or traditional populations.

We must also focus on ensuring that MPAs are properly implemented through effective and equitable governance approaches. The driving forces that could undermine marine conservation - such as the increasing reach of, and demands for, seafood and coastal tourism - are growing. We must ensure that MPAs can withstand the potentially perturbing and undermining effects of these driving forces. Sometimes MPAs may be able to harness such driving forces and sail in their wind, but they must also be able to withstand them.

I also worry that we could be swayed by arguments that improvements in marine spatial planning (MSP) and fisheries management will negate the need for MPAs. The reality is that MPAs are the cornerstone, if not the foundation, of ecosystem-based MSP and fisheries management. No approach alone can ensure that we have resilient and diverse marine ecosystems that sustainably provide vital flows of ecosystem services, but MPAs remain a critically important tool for achieving this. However, MPAs must also be effectively implemented, be they smaller areas in more intensively used inshore seas or larger areas in more remote areas.