The October 2006 edition of MPA News featured an article on the role of MPAs in ecosystem-based management (EBM), and vice versa. We invited readers to participate in a short online poll on the subject, with the goal of measuring baseline attitudes on the relationship between these management measures.

Several dozen readers from around the world participated in the poll – thank you. A summary of your answers is below. Three respondents were selected at random to receive an MPA News canvas tote bag. As ecosystem approaches to marine resource management become more widely applied,MPA News will continue to examine their evolving relationship with MPAs.

Poll results:

Question 1: Can an MPA be successful if there is no ecosystem-based management of adjacent water and land outside the MPA?


Yes 52%
No 48%
Don’t know 0%

Samples of explanations from respondents:

“Yes. If an MPA is intended to protect cultural resources, for example, then it may be successful irrespective of ecosystem-based management in adjacent waters. However, if its purpose is habitat protection or replenishment of stock – or even protection of a representative community – then success is dubious without ecosystem-based management in adjacent areas.”

“Yes, but only if the MPA encompasses a complete ecosystem, as does the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Otherwise, because of the interconnectivity of the sea, the answer would generally be ‘No’.”

“No. The essence of the ecosystem approach is in coping with the dynamic nature of marine systems. While an MPA can protect habitat within its boundaries, many of the species being protected are dependent on propagules from outside the area – hence that outside supply needs to be protected.”

“No, not any more. MPAs’ very existence is attracting more and more development around them. The more scarce these ‘quasi-pristine’ areas are, the more people want to visit them and do business there.”

Question 2: Can ecosystem-based management be successful if MPAs are not used as a component in that management system?


Yes 46%
No 48%
Don’t know 6%

Samples of explanations from respondents:

“Yes. There are many situations in which MPAs are not necessary to achieve EBM goals. For example, in many areas land-based sources of pollution are a more drastic problem than fishing pressure. A traditional community-based fishery that is well-managed in terms of gear and effort can be part of an overall EBM plan, and MPAs may not be necessary for such a plan to work.”

“Yes. MPAs can be tools or provide a framework, but are not the only solution. However, since human nature seems to understand black-and-white uses better than gray areas in management, this makes MPAs a logical product of EBM.”

“No. One reason why EBM risks failure without some areas managed primarily for conservation is that adaptive management – a key part of putting EBM into practice – requires controls. Such controls also provide fail-safes by conserving ecosystem components needed to rebuild in the case of poor management decisions.”

“No. Since an effective, comprehensive coastal EBM plan is a dream for most countries, MPAs are so far the only existing tool to establish real managed areas, no matter how small the MPAs are.”

Question 3: If you can, please give examples of places where you think ecosystem-based management is being implemented effectively.

Answer: The most common answer given was the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, mentioned by 20% of all respondents. Other places mentioned by multiple respondents included Palau (7%) and the Wadden Sea (4%). However, more than half of respondents (52%) either skipped this question – implying they were unaware of any cases of successful EBM – or explicitly answered that they knew of no successful cases

Question 4: What would help ecosystem-based management to become more widely practiced? (From a list of 10 options, respondents were asked to check all that were applicable.)

Answer: The answers were, with the percentage of respondents who selected each one:

  • Better coordination between and within agencies (83%)
  • Lesson-sharing among practitioners (72%)
  • Training for practitioners (70%)
  • Improved scientific information (63%)
  • More widely available decision-support tools and models (61%)
  • Greater clarity in EBM terminology (61%)
  • EBM implementation guidelines and/or support documents (59%)
  • Easier-to-use decision-support tools and models (59%)
  • More peer-reviewed publications that address EBM (37%)
  • Other (54%)

Respondents who checked “Other” suggested the following measures were also needed: education of decision-makers/stakeholders; more funding; better governance; and improved enforcement capacity.

BOX: Paper available on MPAs in ecosystem-based management

The US Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee has released a white paper on the role that MPAs can play in implementation of ecosystem-based management, particularly in the US context. The paper, “Marine Protected Areas: Fundamental Tools for Ecosystem-Based Management”, is available at