You are a fisher. You are on the water with your boat and gear, looking to catch some fish to take to market. There is a no-take marine protected area nearby that you suspect is full of fish. Do you:

  1. Avoid fishing in the MPA because you agree with its goals and purpose?
  2. Avoid fishing in the MPA because you are concerned about getting caught?
  3. Go fishing in the MPA?

This is the basic decision that resource users (fishers or otherwise) face with MPAs. In short, do you follow the rules or not? The ideal for MPA practitioners would be that most or all of their local users go with Choice 1. In that scenario, there would be no need for active enforcement because resource users would police themselves. Unfortunately, total voluntary compliance is rarely the case. At least some enforcement presence – to encourage compliance (2), catch violators (3), or both – is necessary.

The challenge of fostering greater compliance when possible, and applying effective enforcement when necessary, is a central one for MPA practitioners. Ultimately the success of MPAs can depend on it. In this issue, practitioners discuss their views on compliance and enforcement, and describe some of the latest advances on both fronts.

I. Why the risk of fishing illegally increases with reserve size; plus how INTERPOL could play a role in MPA enforcement

[Editor’s note: Jay Nelson directs the Global Ocean Legacy project ( for the Pew Charitable Trusts. The project actively works with national governments and other partners to designate very large, fully protected marine reserves. Pew has been a principal driver behind the surge in recent years in designation of very large no-take areas. Its achievements with partners include the 640,000-km2 Chagos MPA and the 502,000-km2 no-take zone within Australia’s new 1 million-km2 Coral Sea Marine Reserve, among other sites.]

MPA News: Enforcing large, remote no-take areas like Chagos is a major challenge. Will it ever be possible to ensure compliance in these large, remote areas?

Jay Nelson: Just as theft and other crimes can never be completely eliminated, enforcement against determined violators of no-take reserves will never be 100% perfect. Even the most efficient surveillance and enforcement regime can only reduce the likelihood of violations. However, there are several reasons for optimism regarding surveillance and enforcement against illegal fishing, particularly for large, no-take marine reserves.

First, in all cases where there is some surveillance and enforcement, the risk of being caught goes up as the size of the reserve increases. Partly for this reason, on a per-area basis, it’s both cheaper and easier to enforce fishing restrictions in large marine reserves. The likelihood of a vessel entering the edges of a marine reserve of any size will always be relatively high, but as a vessel penetrates deeper into a closed area, the risk of its detection goes up. For this reason, large marine reserves can effectively provide their own buffer; and for the largest reserves, illegal fishing in the core area becomes very risky.

As laws are tightened and improved, illegal fishing will become more difficult in all marine reserves, but particularly for large no-take marine reserves. For example, the presence of vessels in large reserves will always be lower than in surrounding waters, so any vessel that is present is more noticeable, easier to detect, and more likely to be investigated.

Our oceans, just as with the terrestrial world, are getting ‘smaller’. The use of remote sensing technology, satellites, acoustic buoys, and drones is gradually getting cheaper and more sophisticated. The use of Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) and Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) is becoming more widespread, which makes it increasingly difficult for legal vessels to engage in illegal fishing and for illegal vessels to hide. In addition, these technologies gradually will improve vessel identification so that it will, in many cases, no longer require the presence of enforcement vessels to identify and seize illegal vessels. Similar to the use of cameras that allow for remote traffic enforcement, illegal fishing enforcement will take place in port.

MPA News: The Global Ocean Legacy project is working with a number of governments to designate large new reserves, including in Bermuda and around New Zealand’s Kermadec Islands. How much does the need for effective enforcement influence your planning of such reserves?

Nelson: Surveillance and enforcement are among our primary concerns in establishing a new marine reserve. In fact there are some areas we would like to see protected as no-take marine reserves but we believe they present too many enforcement challenges. We restrict our marine reserve proposals to areas in which we believe the government has both the will and the capability to enforce a management regime that will protect the marine reserve and benefit the environment.

There are two ways we can assist governments with this issue. First, we spend considerable time assembling a comprehensive portrait of the available values and resources in the proposed marine reserve. That includes biological information, ecological information, and economic information as well as cultural, historic, and other kinds of data that are necessary in order to do a cost-benefit analysis. The government and local residents will act to create marine reserves only if they believe it is in their long-term interest – and to inform that decision, information is essential. Part of that cost-benefit equation has to be the cost of surveillance and enforcement.

Second, we can provide specific ideas and technical expertise regarding surveillance and enforcement. Global Ocean Legacy has engaged a number of consultants to help us with this work, which includes examining the use of the remote sensing technologies I mentioned earlier (satellites, buoys, drones, etc.). There are also other projects of the Pew Charitable Trusts that are looking at global solutions to illegal fishing, which will apply to no-take marine reserves and other areas alike.

MPA News: In one of those projects (Project SCALE), Pew is supporting work by INTERPOL to combat illegal fishing. Would you like for INTERPOL – an international organization that coordinates policing activities across 190 member states – to get involved directly in MPA enforcement?

Nelson: Project SCALE is focused on fisheries crime and the crimes associated with illegal fishing. INTERPOL’s involvement in the fight to combat such activity will provide an important set of tools needed at a national and international level to prevent illegal fishing operators from benefiting economically from these activities. If MPAs are being exploited and experiencing illicit activity, then Project SCALE should be able to help on several levels by:

  • Raising awareness regarding fisheries crime and its consequences;
  • Establishing National Environment Security Task Forces to ensure institutionalized cooperation between national agencies and international partners;
  • Assessing the needs of vulnerable member countries to effectively combat fisheries crimes; and
  • Conducting operations to suppress crime, disrupt trafficking routes, and ensure the enforcement of national legislation.

For more information: Jay Nelson, Pew Charitable Trusts, Juneau, Alaska, US. Email:

II. Developing an International Center for Compliance Management in MPAs

[Editor’s note: John Knott is a Queensland-based consultant who advises on legal compliance issues. Over the past decade, he has worked closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) to develop and refine all aspects of its compliance management model – from leadership and risk management to investigation and intelligence analysis. The park’s compliance system is now among the most sophisticated in the world for MPAs. Drawing in part on lessons and expertise gained from the GBRMPA experience, Knott is now establishing an International Center for Compliance Management in MPAs, which will provide participating MPA agencies from around the world with instruction and other services. (Reg Parsons, GBRMPA compliance manager, introduced and supported the concept of this international center at the 2012 MPA Enforcement Conference, hosted last November by WildAid in San Francisco.)]

MPA News: Can you describe your plan for an International Center for Compliance Management in MPAs, including where it stands at this point?

John Knott: The vision of the Center is of a global network of compliance management practitioners applying best practice models, processes, and systems, and successfully delivering critical environmental outcomes. The Center will have three principal dimensions – teaching, consultancy, and applied research – with a network of expert consultants at the intersection.

The concept of the Center will evolve from the model currently in place that has delivered the GBRMPA Compliance Management Unit, as well as compliance management services to other regulatory agencies. The Center will seek funding to prepare models, templates, and training packages in generic format that are ready for adaptation to the requirements of specific MPAs.

The Center plans to deliver an International Executive Manager Program for MPAs in the second half of 2013, and regularly thereafter as required. It is proposed that at this four-week program to be delivered in Townsville (Australia), 15 participants from a number of countries will be introduced to the policies, models, processes, and systems of a “best practice” MPA and provided with a generic set of management frameworks and templates. Upon the participants’ return to country, the Center will provide them with consultancy and facilitation support to adapt the approach to their MPAs.

MPA News: In the context of MPA regulations, you and GBRMPA talk about compliance management, not necessarily enforcement management. What is the difference?

Knott: By its nature, enforcement is reactive, punitive, expensive, and, if improperly applied, a risk to the reputation of the MPA management. Although it is an important strategy in dealing with a particular category of non-compliant individual, it must not be the only strategy in the approach to compliance management. The focus must be on achieving voluntary (informed) compliance and on assisted self-regulation where individuals unintentionally fail to comply. Enforcement, especially prosecution, should be used as a strategy of last resort.

In an enforcement-focused park, visitors will feel that failure to comply with requirements will be addressed using a punitive approach. This has the potential for spoiling their experience, and their behavior is focused on avoiding contact with MPA personnel.

In contrast, in a balanced compliance management approach, the staff is skilled to respond in a way that is appropriate to the behavior of the visitor. The focus is on seeking visitors’ co-operation through an understanding of the impact of their behavior. This approach results in a more satisfying experience overall. It leads to visitors and residents reporting behaviors that they believe are inappropriate to the long-term health of the MPA. This working environment and its strong educational basis are also far more rewarding for staff.

MPA News: In your view, is setting up an effective MPA compliance system about understanding human behavior?

Knott: Human behavior and the impact of that behavior must be understood and managed. There are ecological impacts linked to the type of human activity and to people’s attitudes and motivations toward compliance. It is necessary to develop an understanding of behaviors, impacts, demographics, motivations, and methods (of non-compliance) and to devote effort to managing all categories of non-compliance. Failure to do so will result in behaviors that are biased toward non-compliance, with normally compliant people developing non-compliant behaviors simply because “no one is looking”. This is especially the case where there is competition for access to marine resources, particularly fishing.

For more information: John Knott, Knott & Associates, Queensland, Australia. Email:

III. Using marketing to build community-led enforcement programs for MPAs

[Editor’s note: Eleanor Carter is the marine technical director for Rare, an NGO that works with local communities to inspire conservation ( With activities worldwide, the Rare approach involves determining human behaviors that are causing threats to biodiversity in a particular area (such as overfishing), then launching social marketing campaigns in that area to encourage adoption of alternative behaviors. At the 2012 MPA Enforcement Conference in San Francisco, Carter described Rare’s efforts to market the development of community-led and collaborative enforcement programs. These efforts involve 54 MPAs in more than a dozen countries from SE Asia and the Pacific Islands to Central America.]

MPA News: You are working to foster community-led or collaborative enforcement programs in MPAs where the site budgets may not support robust top-down enforcement activities. When you talk about ‘social marketing’ to local communities for surveillance and enforcement of MPAs, how is that different from traditional education and outreach approaches?

Eleanor Carter: In many of the MPAs with which we work, enforcement systems are either non-existent, or have only recently started to be developed, or have been heavily top-down historically (implemented solely by the MPA agency). The surveillance and enforcement mechanisms we tend to promote aim to engage and involve local fishers and community members.

Traditional environmental outreach and education approaches can be very effective at helping fishers understand the benefits of no-take zones, the importance of surveillance and enforcement, and the like. However, as every smoker can tell you, simply ‘knowing’ something (i.e., that smoking is bad for you) doesn’t inherently lead you to change your behavior. The same is true for most behavior change paradigms.

Therefore getting community members actively engaged and involved in surveillance and enforcement efforts requires promotion on all fronts: not just in terms of knowledge, but also addressing community members’ attitudes toward becoming active in site management, and interpersonal communication from their peers in support of the behavior change being targeted. There also needs to be a clear call to action, letting the community members know what they can actively do to get involved. The call to action varies from site to site, and may involve fishers actively volunteering their time on community-led patrols, or establishing cooperatives with surveillance/enforcement mandates to manage particular portions of an area. It may also involve each fisher having a hotline reporting number on speed-dial on his mobile phone: this allows him to report in real-time any zone violations to an on-call agency patrol team.

MPA News: What does setting up one of your social marketing campaigns look like?

Carter: Each ‘Pride Campaign’ begins with about seven months of in-depth on-site research, undertaken by our MPA partners after considerable training with and mentoring by Rare staff. This research includes identifying target audiences and key influencers in each society, gathering baseline data to measure the level of change from pre- to post-campaign, analyzing the barriers to behavior change, and understanding the range of messaging channels available at each site (including media outlets, religious groups, community-gathering events, etc.), among numerous other research activities. Our partners will even know the levels of mobile phone coverage in the area and what a typical day in the life of the target audience looks like. Armed with this information, the campaigns are then designed to ensure that the appropriate communication tools and channels are used to target for behavior change.

The campaigns are led and managed day-to-day in each case by selected members of staff or leading community representatives from the MPA itself (individuals who know the people, the culture, the nuances) with one-to-one coaching, mentoring, and training from Rare staff. The intense training received over the two-year campaign period is also an accredited Masters degree in Communications for Conservation – the only one of its kind in the world.

MPA News: What are some results from your campaigns to market community-led or collaborative enforcement efforts?

Carter: Examples from recently completed campaigns in Indonesia include:

  • Bunaken National Park: A rolling system for volunteer participation in park-led patrols, promoted by a Rare Pride Campaign in partnership with the park authority, correlated with a 75% reduction in fisher activity in no-take zones within one year.
  • Ayau Asia MPA (Raja Ampat region): Community-led patrols with representatives from previously disparate clans in the area, promoted by a Rare Pride Campaign in partnership with Conservation International, led to a 64 percentage point increase in patrol participation across seven clan communities in one year.

To sustain change, all Pride Campaigns enter an alumni phase post-campaign with ongoing support from Rare to continue marketing for change. With campaigns in more than 50 MPAs around the world completed or currently active, demand for such support is growing globally.

For more information: Eleanor Carter, Rare, Arlington, Virginia, US. Email:

BOX: More MPA News coverage of enforcement and compliance

MPA Enforcement: How Practitioners Are Developing New Tools, Strategies, and Partnerships

Managing a Changing Set of Enforcement Challenges: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, Philippines

Experiences in MPA Enforcement, Part II: More Tools and Strategies

MPA Perspective: Autonomous Vessels Offer New Tool for MPA Research and Enforcement

LMMA Lessons: Strategies for improving community compliance and enforcement

BOX: More sources on MPA enforcement

2012 MPA Enforcement Conference
Presentations from this conference, held in November 2012 and hosted by WildAid, are available on the conference website. Speakers from 20 countries explored common obstacles to MPA management (e.g., weak legal frameworks, insufficient budgets, poor surveillance capacity, lack of community buy-in) as well as solutions.

Marine Conservation Institute
MCI has three publications available on MPA enforcement, including Surveillance and Enforcement of Remote Maritime Areas and Protecting America’s Pacific Marine Monuments: A Review of Threats and Law Enforcement Issues.

Pacific Islands Managed and Protected Area Community (PIMPAC)
This webpage contains links to several publications for developing MPA management capacity on enforcement and compliance in the Pacific, particularly in Micronesia.

Enhancing Law Enforcement for the Caribbean Marine Environment,376
MPA managers and rangers from across the Caribbean gathered in August 2012 to share best practices for enforcement of coral MPAs in the region.