Perceptions of ecosystem services and benefits to human well-being from community-based marine protected areas in Kenya
Marine protected areas (MPAs) have historically been implemented and managed in a top-down way, excluding resource-dependent users from planning and management. In response to conflict and non-compliance, the governance of marine resources is increasingly embracing community-based approaches, assuming that by putting communities at the forefront of planning and management, participation will increase, causing positive social and ecological impacts. Given the relative newness of community-based MPAs, this study explores how resource users perceive their impacts on ecosystem services (ES) and human well-being (HWB). This study explores two community-based MPAs called tengefus in Kenya using mixed qualitative methods, including a participatory photography method called photovoice. Participation in and donor support for tengefus influences how resource users perceived tengefus and their impacts on ES and HWB. Individuals who were engaged in the tengefu from the inception or held official positions perceived more positive impacts on ES and HWB compared to those not as involved. Tengefus were often viewed by communities as attractors for external support and funding, positively influencing attitudes and feelings towards conservation. One site, the first tengefu in Kenya, had more external support and was surrounded by positive perceptions, while the other site had little external support and was surrounded by more conflict and mixed perceptions. This study exemplifies the complex social-political dynamics that MPAs create and are embedded within. Community-based MPA initiatives could benefit from ensuring widespread engagement throughout the inception, implementation and management, recognizing and managing expectations around donor support, and not assuming that benefits spillover throughout the community.