Over the past two decades, much of the effort among proponents of marine protected areas has focused on securing designation of new sites. Thousands of MPAs now exist worldwide, with more to come as nations work to establish representative MPA networks. While some of these sites are meeting their goals, many are having difficulty, with financial shortfalls, low compliance, and other challenges. Ineffective MPAs may be little better than having no protection at all.

The emergence in recent years of several methods for measuring the effectiveness of MPA management has been a welcome development. By examining how well MPAs are meeting their goals, these methods can be used by managers to clarify critical issues to address in a systematic, adaptive way. They can also help to share lessons learned with practitioners at other MPAs.

The growth in the number of evaluation tools appears to signal a trend. A current review by the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) has counted dozens of distinct mechanisms for evaluating the effectiveness of protected area management, with several designed specifically for marine areas.

With so many methods available, managers interested in conducting an evaluation may be overwhelmed by the choices. Several analyses are underway to assess these mechanisms, distill what they have in common, and determine the keys to MPA success. Undertaking these analyses – mostly in early stages – are WCPA (A Global Analysis of Protected Area Management), Conservation International (Global Marine Management Area Management Effectiveness Analysis), WWF US (MPA Management Effectiveness Meta-Analysis), and the University of Rhode Island in the US (studying marine ecosystem governance in the context of Caribbean MPAs). Project leaders are in discussions on how best to harmonize these projects and minimize duplication.

Ultimately, the outputs from management effectiveness evaluations could be incorporated in a global MPA database. (A rating system for Philippine MPAs already enters assessments of individual MPAs in a national database – see “Rating system available for MPA management in Philippines”, MPA News 6:3.) The concept would be to display effectiveness data for each site, allow for site comparisons, and enable changes to reflect increases or decreases in effectiveness. Organizers of the World Database on Protected Areas (http://sea.unep-wcmc.org/wdbpa) and the MPA Global database (http://www.mpaglobal.org) are in discussions with WCPA on how best to collect such information in the future and what indicators would be most appropriate.

This MPA News special feature on evaluations of management effectiveness consists of three parts:

  • An essay by Sue Wells and Nancy Dahl-Tacconi on why management effectiveness is important to evaluate;
  • A table, compiled by Wells and Dahl-Tacconi, that describes and contrasts six existing mechanisms for evaluating MPAs; and
  • An interview with Marc Hockings, vice-chair of WCPA, on what it means for a MPA to be a “success” and how to choose the right evaluation method for your site.

In future issues, MPA News will continue to report on management effectiveness as the aforementioned analyses move forward, and as management evaluation becomes an increasingly integral part of MPA management.