Background: In 2021, the MPA News and MPA Help community responded to the question “What one thing should MPA planners or managers do right now with regard to climate change?”. Below are thoughts from community members about practical, tangible things MPA practitioners can/should do right now to make a difference in the face of global climate change.

 Click on links below or scroll down to see responses:

Develop a community ‘pool of ideas’ around specific climate change adaptation actions

By Derek Tittensor of Dalhousie University and Vincenzo Corelli of Institut national de la recherche scientifique

It’s very tricky to give a generalizable answer because managers are naturally at very different stages of planning and execution and have differing capacities for responding to climate change. But, to us, there are four actions that could be worth exploring that cut across all MPAs:

  1. Make sure that climate change adaptation is explicitly articulated in MPA strategic objectives. If an MPA is assessed against targets that are impossible due to climate change impacts then it risks being doomed to failure. (This may provide additional ammunition for those detractors who argue that protected areas are the wrong tool for responding to climate change.)
  2. Develop and monitor forward-looking indicators of ecosystem impacts that are anticipated as well as ongoing. This will help build the ability to be pro-active when changes begin to be detected.
  3. Come together to develop a community ‘pool of ideas’ around specific climate change adaptation actions for individual species, habitats, and ecosystems. These ideas derive from what is happening in individual MPAs and can be adopted by other MPA managers. A shared pool of responses and their benefits / cost tradeoffs may be a valuable resource.
  4. Use an ecosystem-based adaptive management approach with climate-change tailored monitoring (e.g., for early-warning signals of changes in species composition) as the baseline management paradigm. Such a framework is likely better able to respond to the complex and multi-faceted biotic and abiotic impacts of climate change.

Help communities to assess options and select climate-smart adaptation strategies

By Emma Doyle of the MPAConnect Network

With the many day-to-day demands that MPA managers face, it’s understandable that it can be hard to focus on climate change. Yet MPA managers, like those who are part of MPAConnect, play a key role in protecting coral reef ecosystems, which are one of the most vulnerable ecosystems to climate change. We know that reducing stressors on coral reefs can help build their resilience and reduce impacts of climate change, such as coral bleaching. Reducing those stressors typically entails working with the local communities associated with the MPA.

With help from NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, MPAConnect has adapted an approach developed in the Pacific region to help managers and communities work on local early action planning for adaptation to climate change (LEAP). We’ve learned that one of the most important things that managers can do is to help community members recognize and understand the very real impacts of climate change and the need for adaptation.

Managers can help communities tell their local climate story – by using tools that managers have learned from SocMon, like putting together a seasonal fishing calendar and discussing changes observed by fishers. Managers can also help communities to better understand local vulnerabilities. For instance, MPAConnect gathered regional projections for climate change, viewed them through an MPA management lens and identified specific threats to marine and coastal ecosystems and MPA stakeholders including as fishers, farmers, and coastal communities. With help from the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute, we projected impacts of climate change on a local lobster fishery by taking into account impacts on lobster biology, ecology, and local fishing infrastructure. This brings home the vulnerability of local livelihoods.

Solutions are also needed to help communities better prepare for and adapt to impacts of climate change and MPA managers can help communities to assess options and select climate-smart adaptation strategies. Belize Audubon Society, for example, channeled grant support into microgrants to promote sustainable livelihoods options, which have since evolved into a micro-credit program for small enterprise development benefiting fishers and their families. In Saint Lucia, an MPA office is also a local demonstration project for rainwater harvesting. And managers on opposite sides of the region have linked their MPA communities with technical expertise to help evaluate locally-appropriate options for coastal protection. MPAConnect will continue to help build capacity for community engagement and response to climate change in the Caribbean.

Ensure you understand the vulnerability of your resources

By Zachary Cannizzo of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation for NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and NOAA Climate Program Office

The one thing that MPA planners and managers should do right away with regard to climate change is ensure that they have an accurate and complete understanding of the vulnerability of their resources to climate change impacts. Ultimately, purposeful planning and action stem from a solid knowledge base and understanding of the vulnerability of key resources will ensure that limited capacity and resources are employed efficiently and effectively.

Gaining an understanding of resource vulnerability can take a number of forms but should always be based on the best available science. Often, managers will find that when they undertake the process of assessing resource vulnerability, surprises emerge that can alter their perception of where and when capacity should be directed. Some relatively quick strategies for assessing resource vulnerability include talking with subject matter experts, such as local academics, and performing a literature review (see the National Marine Sanctuary Climate Impacts Profiles as an example of the product of such literature reviews).

For managers with the capacity to do so, a formal Climate Vulnerability Assessment can provide extensive, detailed information on the vulnerability of resources that can guide management actions. The Commission for Environmental Cooperation’s Marine Protected Area Rapid Vulnerability Assessment Toolkit is a valuable resource that can guide MPA planners and managers in the formulation and execution of a vulnerability assessment. Some examples of climate vulnerability assessments performed by U.S. MPAs include the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the North-central California Coast and Ocean, the Rapid Vulnerability Assessment for Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary, the Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment for the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, and the Rapid Vulnerability Assessment and Adaptation Strategies for the National Marine Sanctuary and Territory of American Samoa.

The first step to addressing the impacts of climate change in MPAs is understanding how it is going to affect resources of concern. By taking the time to assess climate vulnerability, MPA planners and managers can ensure that limited capacity and resources are leveraged to maximum effect.

Protect climate refugia

By Nohora Galvis of Fundación ICRI Colombia

MPAs can protect climate change refugia. Successful case studies of effective management from a bottom-up scheme are described in the book chapter Transdisciplinary Citizen Science Connects Caribbean Hope Spots of Colombia to Improve Coral Reefs Governance.

Despite threat of climate change, don’t ignore more immediate negative influences

By Alan White of the USAID SEA Project of Tetra Tech Indonesia

Based on my recent experience working in Indonesia over the past five years to enhance MPA coverage and effectiveness as summarized in these two papers (here and here), several essential pieces to the long-term puzzle of ensuring resilience and effectiveness of MPAs in light of climate change are:

  1. Design climate resilient MPA networks that build on existing MPAs using the best science and models such as recently published by Alison Green and others (see guidelines for Indonesia)
  2. Work to improve the effectiveness of existing MPAs that already contain the best examples of critical habitats
  3. Don’t obsess about climate change over more immediate negative influences on coral reefs and other critical habitats. Per our experience in Indonesia, the loss of reefs presently and into the foreseeable future is mostly due to the more immediate anthropogenic causes such as overfishing, destructive fishing, erosion and sedimentation, pollution, etc. If reefs are lost to these factors then planning to save them from pending climate change is not going to be productive.
  4. Build the capacity of local governments and entities that can immediately influence the design and effectiveness of MPAs. In most cases the people that will have the most influence on the implementation and effectiveness of MPAs and habitat protection over time do not have good access to much of the scientific and MPA literature, so intermediary education and training systems are essential.

Build key climate parameters into MPA monitoring programs

By Lisa Levin of Scripps Institution of Oceanography

Build key climate parameters into MPA monitoring programs (temperature, oxygen, pH/carbonate saturations state, sea level).

Consider how unique the climatic conditions of current and future MPAs are

By Matthias Biber of the Technical University of Munich

I have recently published an article Representation of the world’s biophysical conditions by the global protected area network. I think it relates nicely to your question to the community.

In line with this study, I would argue that MPA planners and managers should consider how unique the climatic conditions of the currently-in-place protected areas and the ones that might be implemented in the future are. This will help to ensure that the protected areas in place will also benefit nature under climate change.

As climate change does not stop at borders, it will be particularly important to consider the availability of similar climatic conditions elsewhere and to what extent these are already protected, which is what I tried to address on a global scale with the above-mentioned study. There is also a similar study here, terrestrial only, which looks at the potential future climatic shift in current protected areas, which highlights this issue even further. Of course, there are also other things to consider, i.e., species shifts, that will ultimately depend on the shift in underlying environmental conditions. And the severity in changing climate will decide how vulnerable or resistant natural processes will be to the changing climate.

Read additional responses to the question here (opens as PDF)