Professionals working at a range of bureaucratic levels in MPAs in the Western Indian Ocean now may get certified as a way to demonstrate their skills and experience. Developers of the Western Indian Ocean Certification Programme for Marine Protected Area Professionals, or WIO-COMPAS, anticipate eventually adapting and applying it to other regions worldwide.

The program was developed by the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) in partnership with the Coastal Resources Center (CRC) at the University of Rhode Island in the U.S. The first certification event, consisting of eight days of assessment and professional development, occurred in August 2008 and involved 11 professionals from Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, South Africa, and Tanzania.

WIOMSA already provides several tools for MPA managers, including a manual and training course (MPA News 5:4 and 2:2, respectively). Julius Francis, WIOMSA executive secretary, says the certification program is distinct from these other instruments. “This is a certification program that assesses proven performance on the job,” he says. “While there are professional development skills provided, WIO-COMPAS is not a training course. Candidates come to prove their skills and establish a network with colleagues.”

Those who are accepted into the program already have a certain level of education and experience. At the certification event, candidates share lessons learned with colleagues, refine a case study of a challenge they currently face as a professional in their MPA, and engage in dialogue with regional and international experts in MPA policy and practice.

Individuals who complete the program and receive a passing grade are designated as an “MPA PRO”. The designation indicates the individual has proven he or she meets standards of education, knowledge, skills, experience, and on-the-job performance in six competency areas:

  • Policy, legal and compliance frameworks;
  • Approaches to MPA establishment and management arrangements;
  • Communication and stakeholder engagement;
  • Financing MPAs;
  • MPA management operations; and
  • Biophysical and social environment.

“WIO-COMPAS focuses on the core skills that are needed by the majority of MPA professionals,” says Glenn Ricci of CRC. “The program is not meant to replace training; it is a complement to training efforts. MPA professionals need to continue to be trained so as to be able to perform on the job.” To maintain certification, individuals must renew their certification every five years and undertake continuing education on new practices and tools in MPA management.

Three levels of certification

The program offers advancement and recognition at three levels:

  • Level 1 – For professionals with daily duties similar to those of an MPA ranger or officer
  • Level 2 – For professionals with supervisory responsibilities similar to an MPA manager
  • Level 3 – For professionals in higher-level management, strategy, and policy development

WIO-COMPAS was designed from the start to be replicated in other regions worldwide, says Ricci. “The program has been developed such that its format, content, and, most importantly, standards and indicators for assessing an individual’s performance against core competencies are valid for any MPA professional around the world,” he says. “The WIO-COMPAS team wants to work with others who are interested in adapting the program for their country or region.”

Would the program’s planners eventually like to see certification become a requirement for employment in the MPA management field? “WIO-COMPAS and the larger model were built as a voluntary certification to support the needs of MPA professionals,” says Ricci. “At this early phase it is not the goal of our certification program to be a requirement for employment.” More information on WIO-COMPAS, including its program handbook with information on fees, is available at

For more information:

Glenn Ricci, Coastal Resources Center, University of Rhode Island, U.S. E-mail:

Julius Francis, WIOMSA, Zanzibar, Tanzania. E-mail: