Solving the mystery of marine protected area performance: Linking governance to ecological outcomes
<p>Marine ecosystem services, including fisheries, coastal protection, and marine tourism play a critical role in the economies, livelihoods and food security for millions of people in developing countries. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are increasingly being employed as a tool to promote biodiversity conservation and maintain flows of ecosystem goods and services to coastal communities; however, their implementation has had varying levels of success. Results from numerous case studies suggest that protected area governance is a major factor in explaining the variation in ecological outcomes, but few studies have sought to examine the linkages between MPA governance and impacts at a global scale. This research utilized a cross-disciplinary theoretical framework to test our central hypothesis that positive ecological outcomes at MPA sites are associated with good governance: inclusive decision making arrangements, active and accountable monitoring and enforcement systems, clearly defined resource user rights, and accessible conflict resolution mechanisms. Using datasets that were never previously combined, we compiled ecological data from over 14,000 underwater surveys and governance data from over 300 MPAs globally to explore the relationship between MPA governance and ecological outcomes at a global scale.
<p>While controlling for potentially confounding factors, preliminary analyses of over 250 MPAs/MPA zones demonstrate (on average) increases in fish population metrics (e.g. total biomass) within MPA boundaries. Preliminary analyses also suggest that designating part or all of the MPA as a no-take zone enhances these metric levels even further. Detailed governance data were available in approximately 60 MPAs, and from that sample, the results show a positive relationship between governance attributes such as inclusive decision making arrangements and well-defined resource use rights, and fish biomass. These preliminary results appear to confirm and extend previous research on the relationships between MPA governance and performance, providing novel insights for evidence-based ocean policy. We are also developing an understanding of how different organizations gather, access, and organize coral reef fisheries data to build a useful and functional shared database structure and address a critical but under-recognized obstacle to adaptive management: the absence of a shared, open-access platform to turn raw monitoring data into actionable information to guide decision-making. Interdisciplinary collaboration, empirical monitoring data, data sharing, and integration within a common analytic framework and data platform are critical links to adaptive management and strategic conservation planning in the 21st century.