How much influence should community stakeholders have in planning an MPA?

Below is a perspective piece by Graeme Kelleher, followed by a letter to the editor from Graham Edgar. Both pieces address the issue of community participation in MPA processes, drawing upon each writer’s experience. MPA News welcomes reader feedback: Do you agree or disagree with their viewpoints? E-mail us at We will print responses.

Graeme Kelleher is former Chairman and Chief Executive of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and has edited and authored several MPA-related publications, including IUCN’s Guidelines for Establishing Marine Protected Areas (1999).

Graham Edgar was Head of Marine Research and Conservation for the Charles Darwin Research Station in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, from 2000-2002.

By Graeme Kelleher, former Chairman and Chief Executive, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority

The most important attribute of an MPA manager is integrity. It may seem strange that I cite this principle as the most important, because it is much less technical than most of the general rules that are applied to management. However, it is given prominence here because the competitive nature of humans in general and managers in particular seems to lead most managers to dispense with integrity when it suits them. Many managers have made the mistake of believing that they can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time. The consequence of this is that the manager appears to win a series of battles, but he or she loses the war because of the accumulation of loss of trust. This eventually leads to failure (Idechong and Graham 1998; Pearson and Shehata 1998; Tanzer 1998; Kelleher 1999).

One of the areas in which this principle of operating with integrity was deliberately applied was in the development of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. This MPA started small – the first section covering only 12,000 km2 – in a typically controversial atmosphere. Government in general and the new Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in particular were looked on with suspicion, based on a litany of broken political and administrative promises. This situation prevails in most, perhaps every country. While the legislation that established the Authority provided for wide public consultation, the public as well as most major interest groups expected the Authority to carry out “pretend” consultation. This expectation was well-founded in experience because we all know of agencies and people who deliberately seek to exclude from consultation those who oppose their objectives. As well, managers often delay consultation until a plan has been formulated. We all know how we ourselves react when treated this way.

In this context, we [the Authority] made the deliberate decision to involve meaningfully from the start those who saw the idea of an MPA as contrary to their interests. Of course, the commercial and recreational fishing interests fell into this group. Initially, we attended dramatic meetings with the commercial fishermen, when we were subject to gross insults and the implied threat of physical violence. We deliberately refrained from verbal retribution and concentrated on finding out from the fishermen what they knew of the ecosystems in which they operated and where their principal fishing grounds were.

On the basis of this and other information we formulated our first draft zoning plan, which we released for public comment. The Queensland Commercial Fisherman’s Organisation (QCFO) and individual fishers came to us and said, “Look! You’ve closed one of our best fishing grounds.” Our response was, “But you told us that you didn’t fish there!” They then responded, “But surely you didn’t expect us to tell you where our best fishing grounds were!”

We then modified the zoning plan so that we were able to protect the target habitat type without closing the particular area that the fishers regarded as “theirs”. From this start, the trust between our organizations improved to the extent that the Chairman of the QCFO, his officers and individual fishers worked with the Authority in developing all the zoning plans. Eventually, the Chairman, Ted Loveday, recommended to other areas around Australia that they adopt the Authority’s management approach.

In order to ensure real consultation, we used an iterative approach where we discussed every proposed change in a zoning plan with every interest group in a pro-active manner. We sought them out rather than requiring them to come to us. Sometimes this meant that a new zoning plan took two years to come into effect, rather than the short time specified in the legislation. But the additional effort involved in this approach was repaid many times when the zoning plans were in operation. All groups were sure that their interests had been dealt with to a satisfactory degree.

I have no doubt that in the absence of the trust that our approach generated, the GBR Marine Park would never have expanded to cover its existing 350,000 km2.

Incidentally, this example also illustrates one of the benefits of multiple-use MPAs. In these, specific provision can be made for the interests of every interest group. The initial plan is not seen as the thin edge of a wedge that will be expanded forever.

I and others could cite many, many other examples of the benefits of the application of integrity. The articles by the authors cited in the first paragraph above appear in the June 1998 edition of Parks, the journal published by the IUCN. [That edition of Parks is available online in PDF format at]

For more information:
Graeme Kelleher, 12 Marulda Street, Arenda, Canberra ACT 2614, Australia. Tel: +61 2625 11402; E-mail: