This May, a new guidebook on measuring the management effectiveness of MPAs is scheduled for release. Titled How Is Your MPA Doing?, the book aims to help improve management by offering a framework to identify site goals and analyze how well those goals are being achieved. Featured are case studies of 18 MPAs around the world, both tropical and temperate, that used the framework to evaluate their management effectiveness.

The book has been co-produced by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas-Marine, the (US) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The publication will complete a four-year project by these organizations – the MPA Management Effectiveness Initiative – to design and test a flexible evaluation system that can be adapted by individual MPAs. The systemís framework was developed by specialists in the field of management effectiveness, and refined by a team of MPA experts. Project organizers also brought together managers of the participating MPAs to improve the framework and share lessons learned on how to implement it, including how to incorporate existing monitoring programs in the evaluation.

Monitoring is essential: within the framework, managers choose, measure, and analyze up to 44 indicators of MPA effectiveness, depending on each site’s conditions, goals, and objectives. The indicators are biophysical (like species abundance or water quality), socioeconomic (including local use patterns), and governance-related (including existence of a management plan).

Improving effectiveness

Many MPAs worldwide do not meet their management goals. The reasons for this are several, including ineffective management, lack of funding, and lack of local support. In some nations, the percentage of MPAs that qualify as “paper parks” – existing only on paper, in essence – are believed to range as high as 90% (MPA News 2:11).

Organizers of the MPA Management Effectiveness Initiative say the mixed success in MPA performance demonstrates a need to help management teams evaluate the effectiveness of their actions and improve the impact and scope of their efforts. Theoretically, when evaluation results are combined with adaptive management, practitioners can demonstrate and provide for long-term positive impacts on biodiversity and human communities.

The guidebook will be available on the project website in PDF format at Earlier drafts of the book have been available on the website over the past two years. Translation of the book into Spanish and French is in progress.

For more information:
Gonzalo Cid (project manager), NOAA-NOS International Programs Office, 1315 East West Highway, SSMC3 #5734, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA. Tel: +1 301 713 3078 ext. 131; E-mail:

BOX: Convincing managers of need to measure effectiveness

Below, MPA News speaks with Bud Ehler, vice-chair (marine) for the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA), about presenting the concept of effectiveness evaluation to MPA managers. Ehler has served as a project lead for the MPA Management Effectiveness Initiative, described in the preceding article.

MPA News: Your initiative has designed a framework to help MPA managers evaluate how well their sites are achieving their goals, and the framework involves monitoring potentially dozens of criteria. Implementing it will require time and money. How would you respond to managers who say they don’t have the resources necessary to do this?

Ehler: An MPA manager can use some or all of the tools in the book and gain some insight or benefit. All of the pilot sites that field-tested the guidebook, for example, reported that the exercise of identifying clear and measurable objectives was beneficial in itself, especially since some of the sites had not previously had goals and objectives that were defined adequately. When pilot sites were asked why the guidebook was useful to them, they reported that it was flexible enough to adapt the process and indicators to the particular situation at each of the pilot site MPAs. This was reported even in the case of MPAs that were community-managed and at sites with low to modest financial and technical support.

MPA News: Some managers may feel that an effectiveness evaluation of their MPA is unnecessary, or is even something to be avoided if results could embarrass management. How could you convince these managers that effectiveness evaluation would still be in their interest?

Ehler: We understand that evaluation may not be endorsed by some managers who fear that a “bad” evaluation may put their positions or programs in question. We are not suggesting evaluation for this external purpose. The idea of the guidebook is to help managers improve the effectiveness of their MPAs and facilitate adaptive management. Managing a protected area in the marine environment is challenging and complex. I think few managers would say they have no need to find new ways to spend their scarce resources more efficiently.

For more information:
Charles N. (Bud) Ehler, Director, International Program Office, NOAA/National Ocean Service (N/IP), 1315 East-West Highway, Room 5637, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA. Tel: +1 301 713 3080; E-mail: