How Are Our MPAs Doing? Challenges in Assessing Global Patterns in Marine Protected Area Performance

Document Date: 01 May 2014
Author: Helen E. Foxa*, Jed L. Holtzmanab, Kelly M. Haisfielda, Catherine G. McNallyc, Gonzalo A. Cidd, Michael B. Masciaa, John E. Parkse & Robert S. Pomeroy

Without effective management, protected areas are unlikely to achieve the high expectations the conservation and development sectors have for them: conserving biodiversity and alleviating poverty. Numerous marine protected area (MPA) assessment initiatives have been developed at various spatial and temporal scales, including the guidebook How is your MPA doing? These management assessments have been useful to sites to clarify and evaluate their objectives, yet efforts to examine broader regional or global patterns in MPA performance are only beginning. The authors conducted exploratory trend analyses on How is your MPA doing? indicator data collected by 24 MPAs worldwide to identify challenges and areas for future work. Wide variability across sites with regard to the indicators examined and the constructs used to measure them prevented a true meta-analysis. Managers assessed biophysical indicators more often than socioeconomic and governance constructs. Investment by the conservation community to support collecting and reporting high-quality data at the site level would enable a better understanding of the variation in MPA performance, clarify the contribution of MPAs to both biodiversity conservation and poverty alleviation, and help drive better MPA performance. The absence of rigorous and consistent monitoring protocols and instruments and a platform to turn raw MPA monitoring data into actionable information is a critical but under-recognized obstacle to cross-project learning, comparative analyses, and adaptive resource management.