Developing a framework for the efficient design and management of large scale marine protected areas
Following the designation of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in 2000, globally there has been a growing trend in establishing large, remote, no-take marine reserves (> 150,000 sq km), generally known as Large-Scale Marine Protected Areas (LSMPAs). Yet such MPAs with vast geographical areas bring design and management challenges, as the islands and seas are spread over hundreds of nautical miles and are largely inaccessible and often uninhabited. In order to understand how management of LSMPAs can be successfully sustained, this study evaluates the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve (PIMR), designated in September 2016, against a framework based on 10 criteria, which were derived from the IUCN WCPA's Guidelines for Design and Management of Large-Scale MPAs. Initial findings show the PIMR was satisfactory in design focusing on sound management practices, taking into account uncertainties around financial sustainability and future administrations. This study identifies the importance of: acquiring robust baseline data, being fully protected (no-take), using ecosystem-based management, community inclusion, and of adopting an ecologically connected network approach. These features are needed for large marine reserves to maximize achieving both ecological and socio-economic goals, with particular attention to engagement of local communities. This study opens the possibility of refining and adapting the criteria developed through the PIMR case study as starting point for other Large-Scale MPAs, as their global expansion could benefit from comparative analysis. It also acknowledges the importance of having comparative design and management guides, contributing towards globally recognized standards for large-scale MPAs.