How do we manage marine protected areas (MPAs) in a way that makes them more effective and resilient?

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

How do we manage marine protected areas (MPAs) in a way that makes them more effective and resilient? A recent book argues that diversity is the key to resilience, both of species in ecosystems and incentives in governance systems

There are growing societal concerns about the health of our seas and increasing interest in the potential of marine protected areas (MPAs) as a key contribution to addressing these concerns. Against this background, a recent book by Dr Peter Jones of UCL’s Department of Geography: Governing Marine Protected Areas: resilience through diversity, focuses on the argument that the social and ecological resilience of marine ecosystems can be promoted by employing a diversity of approaches in the management or governance of MPAs. He discusses such approaches in terms of ‘governance incentives’.

This book addresses some important questions related to the effective and equitable governance of MPAs –  How can top-down (government-led), bottom-up (local people-based) and economic (property rights, markets, etc.) approaches to MPA governance be combined? What does this mean, in reality, in different contexts? How can we develop and implement governance approaches that are both effective in achieving conservation objectives and equitable in fairly sharing associated costs and benefits? These questions are explored through a study of 20 MPA case studies from around the world employing a novel governance analysis framework.

The arguments, framework and findings on which this book is based should help inform discussions on how we can govern MPAs in a way that makes them both effective in achieving their conservationist objectives, particularly in the face of forces that are increasingly driving activities that can challenge the achievement of such objectives, and equitable in addressing related social justice issues. Whilst some divergences between scientists and differences between terrestrial and marine environments pose significant challenges, the need to address the overall challenge of effectively governing MPAs remains paramount, recognising that this will invariably involve addressing basic conflicts between different people, underpinned by different value systems.

Given these conflicts, it is argued that the role of the state and of legal incentives, in combination with economic, interpretative, knowledge and participative incentives, needs to be constructively embraced by MPA governance analyses and initiatives. The arguments and findings covered in this book, particularly the MPA governance empirical framework and the related co-evolutionary hierarchical governance concept, should enable debates to move forward on a more systematic and informed basis in order to steer MPA governance in a manner that meets these challenges, without the constraints of assumptions and ideals related to the concept of self-governance that currently pervade governance analyses. The main aim of this book is stated at the outset to be to explore what the ‘good practice’ recommendation that the design and management of MPAs must be both top-down and bottom-up actually means in practice. On the basis of these analyses of 20 case studies it is argued that it means combining a diversity of appropriate incentives from different incentive categories, as diversity is the key to resilience, both of species in ecosystems and incentives in governance systems.

Building on this concept, a key theme of the book is that MPA governance needs to combine people, state and market approaches, rather than being based on one approach and its related ideals. Building on a critique of the governance analysis framework developed for common-pool resources, the book puts forward a more holistic and less prescriptive framework for deconstructing and analyzing the governance of MPAs. This transdisciplinary analysis is aimed at supporting the development of MPA governance approaches that build social-ecological resilience through both institutional and biological diversity. It will also make a significant contribution to wider debates on natural resource governance, as it poses some critical questions for contemporary approaches to related research and offers an alternative theoretical and empirical approach.

Jones PJS (2014) Governing Marine Protected Areas: resilience through diversity. Earthscan/Routledge. See leaflet for this book which includes a 20% discount code (DC361 takes price to £40 + £2 postage in UK) that can be applied when the book is purchased from the Earthscan/Routledge site


“There are many books on how to design and create marine protected areas (MPAs), so vital for ocean conservation, but few on how to make them successful. This book plugs that crucial gap, distilling experience from across the world into sound and creative advice.” – Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, University of York, UK. “The issue of governance is addressed in this book in a novel and important way. Through the lens of his review of a large number of MPA case studies, Jones makes the case for diversity and complexity in the governance of MPAs, which are themselves ecologically diverse and complex. This is a signal achievement which should greatly advance both policy and practice.” – Bonnie J. McCay, Distinguished Professor, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey, USA. “There is a lot of scattered information about the value of MPAs, but we need a book that makes sense of all this information, informs us on how to make the best of the MPAs we have, and reviews why we need more. Dr. Jones’ is that book.” – Daniel Pauly, Professor of Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Canada. "MPAs are mystifyingly prone to failure. Using a robust case study analysis approach, Jones clearly demonstrates a broad variety of ways to achieve management-to-scale via different governance arrangements, in order to harness the significant potential of MPAs in achieving conservation and sustainable use objectives." – Tundi Agardy, Executive Director, Sound Seas, Author of Ocean Zoning: Making Marine Management More Effective (Earthscan, 2010). "This book addresses the challenges of implementing and effectively managing MPAs for narrower habitat protection. It also places MPAs in the broader context in terms of both governance and ecological theories. These issues are addressed in a novel, thorough and trans-disciplinary way. This is an important contribution to the field of marine conservation and natural resource management." – Richard Kenchington, Professor, Ecosystem and Resource Management, Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security, University of Wollongong, Australia. “Peter Jones examines a very timely topic: governing marine MPAs within nations’ waters. He sees the big picture and the diversity of details that governments and stakeholders need to shape if MPAs are to benefit biodiversity and people. Read this book!” – Elliott Norse, Founder and Chief Scientist, Marine Conservation Institute, Seattle, USA. "Here is a book that deals with governance of a natural system for purposes of resilience. It is really worth reading!" – C.S. Holling, Arthur R. Marshall Jr. Chair in Ecological Sciences, Department of Zoology, University of Florida, USA.

Just a quick plug for a live chat with Dr. Peter JS Jones that will occur on Tuesday, 1 April 2014. More information is at

The journal Nature has published a positive 'Books in Brief' review of 'Governing MPAs' - - "Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs — ocean zones limiting human activity — cover little more than 2% of the world's oceans, despite an internationally agreed target of 10% by 2020. And thousands of those that do exist are little more than 'paper parks', many scientists have found. Entering these choppy waters is geographer Peter Jones, who shows, through some 20 case studies, how and how not to govern MPAs effectively. Jones compellingly concludes that a diversity of incentives, from economic to social, is as essential as the diversity of the ecosystems MPAs are designed to protect."

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