Assessing the performance of Marine Protected Areas

Linking governance, conservation, ecosystem services, and human well being.

Assessing the performance of Marine Protected Areas

Linking governance, conservation, ecosystem services and human well-being


The challenge

The benefits and services provided by marine ecosystems, including fisheries, coastal protection and tourism, play an ever more critical role in the economies of many developing countries, supporting the livelihoods and food security of millions of people.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) which include marine reserves, sanctuaries, parks, and no-take zones, are areas designated to protect marine species and habitats from both global and local threats. They are expanding rapidly in number and total area. In 2011, 193 countries committed themselves to the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Targets, including a goal of “effectively and equitably” managing 10% of their coastal and marine areas within MPAs and “other effective area-based conservation measures” by 2020.

As countries continue to expand their coverage and create new MPAs to achieve national targets, many unanswered questions remain: Are MPAs meeting their social and ecological objectives? Are they being managed “effectively and equitably”? How can we ensure that MPAs deliver the ecological and social benefits they were designed to produce?

The response

The Marine Protected Areas (MPA) project has compiled the first global data set to examine the links between MPA management and effectiveness. The research, a partnership between the Luc Hoffmann Institute (LHI) and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), coordinated by LHI Fellow David Gill, identified the links between MPA governance and socio-ecological outcomes by compiling and analysing data from 589 MPAs across the globe. It brought together a group of researchers and stakeholders from multiple research disciplines as well as academic and non-academic backgrounds to highlight some of challenges affecting MPAs, mainly insufficient staffing and funding. These shortcomings were shown to significantly affect fish populations in the MPAs that were investigated.

The impact

The project found that at MPAs that had sufficient staffing, increases in fish populations were nearly three times greater than those without adequate personnel. Despite the critical role of local management capacity however, only 35% of MPAs reported acceptable funding levels and only 9% reported adequate staff to manage the MPA. These findings are essential for protected area managers, funders and policy-makers. They provide support for protected area managers who suffer, first hand, staffing and funding challenges and often feel that their tasks far exceed their capacity. The findings provide funders with a more accurate representation of what it takes to effectively manage a MPA. They can also help local, regional and even global policy-makers design and implement legislation on protected areas that considers the challenges presented.

The research proposes policy solutions including increasing investments in MPA management, prioritising social science research on MPAs, and strengthening methods for monitoring and evaluating MPAs.

Main Image: © JÜRGEN FREUND / WWF-CANON

Project partners

Project leaders

David Gill (Luc Hoffmann/SESYNC Fellow), Helen Fox (National Geographic), Mike Mascia (Conservation International), Louise Glew and Gabby Ahmadia (WWF US).

Related Reading

Luc Hoffmann InstituteAssessing the performance of Marine Protected Areas