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