What Should Be Done When MPAs Do Not Meet Their Goals?: Poll Reveals Range of Views

MPA News

A successful marine protected area is one that meets its goals. Whether those goals relate to conserving biodiversity, making resource use sustainable, or other purposes, MPA effectiveness is measured by what the site was designed to achieve.

Of course, defining success for an MPA is the easy part. Actually achieving it - amid the normal array of budgetary, ecological, and socio-political challenges that managers face - is more difficult. Evaluation of MPA performance should be considered a normal component of good management processes. In recent years, the emergence of multiple methods for measuring effectiveness has allowed MPA managers to clarify critical issues, improve accountability, and share lessons learned with peers elsewhere ("Measurement of Management Effectiveness - The Next Major Stage in MPAs?", MPA News 7:10).

As management evaluations become more commonplace in the MPA field, some percentage of these sites (10%?...20%?...more?) will be assessed as not meeting their goals. The question arises:

What should management bodies do with MPAs that are evaluated as ineffective?

This month, MPA News polled several practitioners and stakeholders for their advice, bearing in mind the financial realities of most MPA management bodies (that is, large budgetary increases are generally not an option). Their answers are below.


Ensure that stakeholders are part of the solution

Kalli De Meyer, executive director, Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, and former manager of Bonaire National Marine Park. E-mail: kdm [at] telbonet.an

The very short answer is, "Go back to the drawing board."

I would recommend that the management body first evaluate whether the MPA's goal is still valid, reasonable, and achievable. If this is the case then the next step is, of course, to establish the root cause of why the goal is not being met - for example, whether lack of time or resources, lack of staff, or training are the cause versus lack of legislation, political will, or similar. Once you know what the problem is, it is much easier to start looking for a fix. Next I would try to find other MPAs with the same or similar problems and find out how they went about solving them.

Where there are stakeholder interests involved, I would bring them on board from the outset so that they can contribute toward the process of finding and applying a solution. Ensuring that stakeholders become part of the solution for resource protection and don't become part of the problem is one of the key tasks of management. This brooks the question: what if the stakeholders are the problem? The answer is: woo them. Demonstrate the value of the MPA to them in ways that they will understand and accept. And organize exchanges of key stakeholders with other MPAs so that they can learn in a hands-on way (fishermen with fishermen, or dive operators with dive operators) about the value of MPAs and how to benefit from them.


No reason to maintain an ineffective MPA

Cora Markensteijn, policy officer for nature and spatial planning, Dutch Fish Product Board. E-mail: c.markensteijn [at] pvis.nl

The reason why the MPA has not met its goals should be investigated so that lessons can be learned for the future. If the MPA doesn't function due to lack of enforcement, for example, this reason has to be addressed. If the conclusion is that the MPA cannot meet its goals because the goals were never clear (which happens, unfortunately), or because the dynamics of the marine environment have changed, the MPA should be abolished and the area should be opened, meaning that the area can be used for other purposes.

We should prevent the closure of areas just because people want to close areas, or because it gives the idea that we are doing something good for the environment. An MPA should have clear, verifiable goals and if these goals cannot be met, the MPA is ineffective. There is no reason to maintain an ineffective MPA.


Spatial scale of management needs to match MPA goals

Billy Causey, regional director, Southeast Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Region, National Marine Sanctuary Program (U.S.). E-mail: Billy.Causey [at] noaa.gov

More MPAs are considered "paper parks" around the world than those that are managed effectively. Whether an MPA is ineffective in meeting its goal(s) depends on several essential criteria. The first one is easy - lack of funding for important programs such as science, education and enforcement. Clearly, more funding enables implementation of more management programs. However, more management programs do not necessarily translate into effective management.

From my experience, the primary cause of ineffective management is that the spatial scale at which we manage is not always appropriate to meet the goals of resource conservation and protection. Issues like improved ocean governance and ecosystem-based approaches to management have sometimes been ignored by both managers and their agencies. The special natural, physical, or socioeconomic features that existed when the MPAs were set aside for protection have not been lost...so the MPA should not cease to exist. However, MPA managers and their agencies need to be bold enough to look and work beyond their boundaries. Such an approach requires cooperation. Various technologies such as remote sensing have advanced our ability to step back and get a larger-scale perspective on managing MPAs. Managers need to use these tools and consider the concepts of connectivity and resilience. More effective management may simply rely on different management approaches, including domestic and international networks of MPAs that can benefit one another in a true ecosystem-based approach.


Were the goals realistic?

Martine Landry, advisor on MPAs and ecologically and biologically significant areas, Oceans Policy and Planning Branch, Fisheries and Oceans Canada. E-mail: landrymar [at] dfo-mpo.gc.ca

Were the goals of the MPA ever realistic? An MPA is not independent of its marine and terrestrial surroundings, no matter how large it is. Its goals and management measures should therefore reflect such a reality.

For some MPAs, what you are trying to protect is severely impacted by factors beyond the MPA manager's control. Eutrophication caused by agricultural runoff, for example, or rising sea surface temperature due to climate change can each cause great loss of habitat and shifting of ecosystems, including migration of species out of the MPA over time. Unless a management body can adaptively move an MPA in response to such variability, it should consider using the site instead as a focal point for a broader management effort, like ecosystem-based/integrated management. This could involve de-listing the MPA: a site that is doomed due to its size in relation to the challenges it faces should not be kept on a "respirator". However, de-listing does not mean that you are giving up. Changing the management tool may be the correct solution. Management bodies need to face the source of the problem in its entirety.


Management effectiveness analysis is necessary

Alan White, The Nature Conservancy (U.S.), and former director of the Marine Protected Area Project, conducted by the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, a Philippine NGO. E-mail: alan_white [at] tnc.org

An MPA, or zone within an MPA, that is not effectively managed or is not functioning as intended should first be analyzed with regard to the MPA management context and objectives, as well as the capacity of the management body. If we assume that the management body has sufficient capacity to manage the MPA/zone, an important step would be to conduct a management effectiveness analysis to determine what are the factors that are contributing to ineffective management. If done systematically, the key aspects of management that are not functioning would be identified.

By digging deeper, the causes of poor management can be analyzed further and contributing contextual factors isolated. In some cases, the objectives may not be realistic and no amount of support will make the difference to improve management. Some large MPAs designated in countries where fishing is an important source of income for coastal communities are often in conflict with traditional resource use patterns. A management effectiveness analysis might lead to the conclusion that the MPA/zone given its objectives is too large or that a process is needed to engage stakeholders that requires more resources. It might require revising the management plan to address difficult management issues over a longer time period that includes an education component, for example. In the end a management effectiveness analysis in relation to the MPA context will usually lead to potential solutions about how to improve a poorly functioning MPA. The solution might require major changes in the original goals and/or simply refining the management process to address issues.


Options for improving financial performance

Pippa Gravestock, environmental consultant who conducted a global survey of MPA income needs ("The cost of operating an MPA", MPA News 5:5). E-mail: pippa.gravestock [at] btinternet.com

A pernicious limiting factor in MPA performance is insufficient funds. The options available to improve MPA financial performance can be grouped into two categories - raising revenues and introducing cost efficiencies.

The number of revenue-generating opportunities for MPAs has increased dramatically in recent years, and the potential for sites to improve their financial position with these tools should not be underestimated (see Sustainable Financing Of Protected Areas: A Global Review Of Challenges And Options [IUCN, 2006] at www.conservationfinance.org/Documents/CF_related_papers/sustainable-financing-23feb.pdf). Even with respect to the mundane issue of visitor fees, there is considerable evidence to suggest that many protected areas are systematically under-charging visitors for their services.

To improve an MPA's cost efficiency, the most radical option is to remodel the management plan to align protected area objectives more closely with revenues (perhaps doing fewer things well as opposed to more activities badly). Other options range from structural cost-sharing - i.e., sharing costs with allied service providers such as fisheries enforcement agencies - to volunteer labor and the achievement of best practice management standards.

The issue of scarce finances looms large over marine conservation management. The projected cost of a functional global MPA network dwarfs what is currently spent on all marine conservation projects worldwide ("Global MPA Network Would Cost $12-14 Billion Annually", MPA News 6:1). In this context, difficult decisions may be necessary with respect to ineffective and inefficient conservation providers. There may be cases where the drive to allocate scarce resources in a meaningful way leads to protected area re-structuring programs and even eventual site de-listing.


Questions to guide an MPA review

John R. Clark, co-author with Rodney Salm and Erkki Siirila of "Marine and Coastal Protected Areas: A Guide for Planners and Managers" (IUCN 2000). E-mail: JohnRClarkX [at] cs.com

Management's approach to fixing an MPA that is not meeting its goals starts with an analysis of the goals themselves and then goes to reviewing the rest of the program:

1. Are the goals realistic in terms of what the MPA should and can accomplish? Are they appropriate to the conditions that exist on site? Are the goals articulated in such a way that an effective management program can be structured under them? Any problems can be solved by reframing the goals.

2. Is the management program clearly defined as to what actions are to be taken - when, where, how, by whom, and for what purpose? If particular program activities fail the clarity test, they can be redefined to make sure they are clear, implementable, and are responsive to goals.

3. Are program personnel properly trained for their jobs? If not, appropriate training activities can be initiated.

4. Are the human dimensions of the program addressed properly? Analysis is needed to better understand social impediments. Do community members feel they were not adequately involved in the process? Do they feel that MPAs just don't work? Are there religious and cultural issues that negate effectiveness? Is a different communication model (different from mere education) needed? Are there distributive/procedural/participatory/retributive justice issues?


Privatizing management is an option

Lida Pet Soede, head of program, WWF Coral Triangle Network Initiative, WWF-Indonesia. E-mail: lpet [at] wallacea.wwf.or.id

If the MPA is considered critical (i.e., to support ecosystem functions for endangered species or to act as a source of larvae for habitats elsewhere, and if it is still in sufficiently good condition to perform these services) but if management is not well enforced, then privatizing management of the MPA is an option. This can be done by establishing formal management and use rights for communities or private sector institutions that commit to implementing sound management. Incentives can be provided in the form of technical or financial support, and can be revoked if audits show insufficient performance. If the MPA is not in sufficient condition to support the ecosystem functions described above, the management body should seriously consider moving attention and effort to those MPAs that do.


MPA removal is an option, but only after all others are tried

Jason Simms, section head, Integrated Oceans Management Program (Newfoundland and Labrador Region), Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada. E-mail: SimmsJa [at] dfo-mpo.gc.ca

It is crucial for management bodies to know the root cause of why the MPA is not meeting its goals. There may be underlying issues that are not apparent at first glance. Illegal activity in the MPA by user groups, for example, could be due to frustration the groups have with the MPA or management body. Or it could be due simply to a lack of awareness of the protected area. It could also result from the departure or retirement of an initial "champion" of the MPA, in which case user groups affiliated with that person may become disconnected from the original arguments for protection.

If the ineffectiveness is due to poor design (wrong size or place) or poor regulations, then fundamental changes to the MPA are necessary. Management bodies must gather the best available information, including science and traditional ecological knowledge, and engage existing governance structures (steering committees, advisory bodies, etc.). This process - ideally facilitated by a non-biased individual - should identify a way forward including a strategy to address the issue(s), a communications plan, and a timeframe for implementation. Be open and transparent. Management bodies need to respect concerns from stakeholders and interest groups while remaining committed to addressing the problems. Removing or abandoning a designated MPA is an option that should be discussed only when all other avenues have been fully exhausted.