Evaluating stakeholder participatory processes in policy development for Marine Protected Areas
This paper evaluates two stakeholder participatory workshops (local communities and tourism stakeholder) to support the development of a management plan for South Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area (SAMPA), Maldives. SAMPA is the largest MPA in the country declared by Maldives to preserve one of the largest whale shark aggregations in the world. However, to date it exists with no management plan to date. The objective of the workshops was to consult with stakeholders on a range of potential regulatory and governance mechanisms proposed for the MPA that can be included in a potential management plan. The paper finds that the two stakeholder workshops had, both functional and dysfunctional aspects that influenced the potential design of a management plan for SAMPA. Overall, the workshops represented a clear opportunity for collective learning and collaboration that fostered dialogue and deliberation. However, important and influential stakeholders were under-represented at the workshops. Furthermore, a reluctance of government to demonstrate how the outcomes of the workshop would be integrated in its decision-making left many participants feeling sceptical about the fairness, equity and effectiveness of the processes that would follow. With no management plan to date, this paper proposes that any future stakeholder process in SAMPA should be underpinned by well informed governance and regulatory options that have the support and commitment of the government which can ensure SAMPA's ecosystem services are sustained to benefit long-term human well-being.