Evaluating approaches for scaling up community-based marine protected areas into socially equitable and ecologically representative networks
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are vital to marine conservation, but their coverage and distribution is insufficient to address declines in global biodiversity and fisheries. In response, many countries have committed through the Aichi Target 11 of the Convention on Biological Diversity to conserve 10% of the marine environment through ‘ecologically representative’ and ‘equitably managed’ MPAs by 2020. The rush to fulfill this commitment has raised concerns on how efforts to increase MPA coverage will affect other elements of Target 11, including representation and equity. We used a Philippines case study to assess and compare three alternative MPA planning approaches for biodiversity representation and equitable distribution of costs to small‐scale fishers. MPAs in an ‘opportunistic approach’ were identified and supported by coastal communities. A ‘donor‐assisted approach’ utilised local knowledge to select MPAs through a national‐scale and donor‐assisted conservation project. A ‘systematic conservation planning approach’ identified MPA locations through the spatial prioritization software ‘Marxan with Zones’ to achieve biodiversity objectives with minimal and equitable costs to fishers. The opportunistic approach was ineffective at representing biodiversity and resulted in inequitable costs to fishers. MPAs selected through the donor‐assisted approach affected fishers disproportionately but provided near‐optimal representation of a study region extent. With approximately the same MPA coverage, the systematic approach was the only approach that achieved all representation targets with minimal and equitable costs to fishers. Our results demonstrate the utility of systematic conservation planning to address key elements of Target 11 and highlight opportunities and pitfalls for planning MPAs in similar contexts.