Editor’s note: Sue Wells, a private consultant to the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, coordinated the theme on “Ensuring Effective Management” at the First International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC1) in October 2005 in Geelong, Australia. Nancy Dahl-Tacconi is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Queensland, Australia, studying the roles of scientific methods and participatory processes in evaluating MPA effectiveness.

By Sue Wells and Nancy Dahl-Tacconi

There is resistance from some MPA managers to the concept of formal, systemized evaluations of their sites. In October 2005 during a side event on management evaluations at the International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC1), several attendees voiced skepticism. Evaluations take up too much time and financial resources, they said, and it can be awkward for staff and managers to have to acknowledge problems or weaknesses to their superiors. It would be better, the skeptics said, to trust managers to know what is best for their sites, using whatever informal evaluative methods each manager chooses.

Certainly, carrying out an evaluation is not always easy, for the reasons listed above. But the range of evaluation methods now available offer solutions to most problems: there are methods now, for example, that do not require much time or personnel to operate.

Fundamentally, evaluations should be viewed as a tool to assist managers in their work, not distract them from such. Lessons learned from an evaluation, and the recommendations that arise from it, can be used to adapt management strategies in response to changing conditions – a benefit to any manager. Case in point: a formal evaluation of Miramare Natural Marine Reserve in Italy helped identify both that improved patrols were needed in summer months, and that a better control study was needed to compare the reserve’s biodiversity results with neighboring areas. As in any business or workplace, evaluation of impact and performance should be seen as a normal and essential component of good management processes. Even for the best managed MPAs, there are opportunities for improvement.

Evaluations should not only identify problems and their causes but also highlight what is working well. This way, a learning environment is created to share knowledge and experience, and to ensure that lessons learned are not lost nor mistakes repeated. Additional benefits from an evaluation include:

  • Improving accountability with donors and stakeholders. An evaluation of Lenger Island Marine Protected Area in the Federated States of Micronesia revealed that local communities had a poor understanding of the site and that there was a need for improved public awareness and education programs.
  • Assisting with planning and partnerships, including setting of priorities and improving relations. An evaluation of Bunaken National Park in Indonesia revealed that satisfaction levels of residents of the park (a large but relatively silent stakeholder group) were quite high, in contrast to criticism of park programs from a smaller group of vocal, external stakeholders. This finding led management to promote external awareness of what was working well and to withstand calls for program changes from the latter group.
  • Highlighting issues for which more support or additional funds are needed. An evaluation of the Galapagos Marine Reserve documented key issues in governance, fisheries, and community perception, and a funding strategy was developed to target each issue.
  • Improving the usefulness of monitoring so that adequate mechanisms for tracking progress are in place. Many evaluations have demonstrated that biodiversity monitoring programs are not sufficiently targeted and that socioeconomic monitoring, if in place, is usually inadequate.

The process should be embraced as an accepted component of MPA management. Indeed, the Convention on Biological Diversity, in its Programme of Work for Protected Areas, calls on Parties to develop and adopt appropriate methods, standards, criteria, and indicators for evaluating management effectiveness and governance by 2008, and to assess at least 30% of their protected areas by 2010. Perhaps we need to think of management effectiveness evaluations in the way we think of regular service check-ups of our cars: a periodic check to make sure things are functioning well and to trouble-shoot for any problems on the horizon.

For more information:

Sue Wells, 95 Burnside, Cambridge CB1 3PA, United Kingdom. Tel: +44 1223 711 017; E-mail: suewells100@tiscali.co.uk

Nancy Dahl-Tacconi, School of Natural and Rural Systems Management, University of Queensland, Australia. E-mail: nancy.dahl-tacconi@deh.gov.au