Governing MPAs as part of networks: gardening in the shadow of hierarchy?

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By Dr Peter JS Jones, Dept of Geography, University College London (P.J.Jones [at]

The most recent issue of MEAM features a series of interesting perspectives on different approaches for addressing scale mis-matches between individual MPAs and the wider network or ecosystem-based management (EBM) initiative of which they are a component. The challenges of such approaches are further explored in Tundi's Take, and this blog further explores these perspectives and this take, drawing on my recent book on Governing Marine Protected Areas: resilience through diversity (Jones 2014). The essence of the challenges of scale mis-matches is that an MPA network and/or EBM initiative may have wider-scale, longer-term objectives, whereas an individual MPA may be strongly influenced by local economic gain and shorter-term objectives, including the potential for disproportionate influence or 'capture' by specific commercial sectors and community groups. These challenges are exacerbated where different MPAs are connected by the wide ranges of many fish populations and by the even wider ranges of fishermen that harvest such fish populations.

The challenges of scale mis-matches are discussed by some in terms of 'scale challenges', which they argue can be negotiated amongst actors at different spatial scales and at different institutional levels through horizontal and vertical linkages (e.g. Cash et al., 2006), with the emphasis being very much on bottom-up approaches through place-based self-governance, involving facilitated negotiations as a basis for reciprocated cooperation amongst people in different places (i.e. MPAs).

This way of thinking about how to address scale mis-matches is currently de rigueur, including in MPA circles. I am not entirely convinced, particularly given the tendency for many wider-scale human and ecological inter-connections in our seas. Can the challenges, competitions and, lets face it, conflicts raised by these human and ecological inter-connections between MPAs really be addressed by negotiations and cooperation, with no higher level, wider-scale policy/legal coordination mechanisms?

In my studies on MPA governance (Jones 2014), I consider the answer to this question to often be 'no' and focus on what I term a co-evolutionary hierarchical governance approach (illustrated in attached figure), which involves the "coming together of top-down and bottom-up approaches" (as Tundi puts it in her as ever insightful 'take' on scale mis-matches), in order to provide for the governance of individual MPAs to address the human and ecological inter-connections between networks of MPAs. This does not mean:-

  • an entirely bottom-up approach, with faith placed in negotiations through horizontal and vertical linkages to address scale-challenges, with all the associated problems of minority capture, parochialism and short-termism,
  • nor an entirely top-down approach, with faith in the wider-scale remit of higher level policies and agencies, with all the associated problems of fortress conservation and imposition.

Instead, it means combining top-down and bottom-up approaches, along with economic, awareness-raising and knowledge-sharing approaches, so that the weaknesses of one approach are addressed by strengths of the others, in order to achieve the strategic, wider-scale, longer-term objectives of each MPA and the network each forms a component of. This is a way of "letting a thousand flowers bloom into the garden we want and need" (as Tundi eloquently puts it) through training, preening and tending them so that the flowers (AKA MPAs in the context of networks and EBM) do so in concert and harmony. This way of thinking about how to address scale challenges is explored through 20 case studies (Jones 2014), which readers of this series of very interesting perspectives on scale-mismatches may find of interest. This 'gardening in the shadow of hierachy' approach could represent a way forward from the top-down/bottom-up/scale mismatches dilemmas that these perspectives are discussing? This could also represent a way of building social-ecological resilience, the key to which is argued to be diversity, both of governance approaches in social systems and species in ecosystems.

Cash, D.W., Adger, W.N., Berkes, F., Garden, P., Lebel, L., Olsson, P., Pritchard, L. and Young, O. (2006) ‘Scale and cross-scale dynamics: governance and information in a multilevel world’, Ecology and Society, 11, 2, article 8

Jones, P.J.S. (2014) Governing Marine Protected Areas: resilience through diversity. Routledge (see recent interview in MPA News on this book)

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