Multiple conservation designations: what impact on the effectiveness of marine protected areas in the Irish Sea?
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a conservation tool designed to adequately manage and protect marine resources threatened by human activity by addressing both biological and socioeconomic needs. The Irish Sea is a busy waterway under the jurisdiction of six entities (Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, England, and Wales). Within this body of water there are almost 200 conservation designations across 111 MPA sites, with many sites having multiple designations (national, EU, and international). Data is lacking on the effectiveness of these protected areas in reaching their conservation objectives due to sites being inadequately monitored. The race to meet the 10% marine protected area target set by the Conservation on Biological Diversity, however, may be compromising effective planning. Do multiple designations ensure better protection of the marine environment, or is the Irish Sea home to paper parks, offering little protection? Metadata compiled from the World Database on Protected Areas and conservation reports from MPA managers were used to investigate this question. The results show a positive correlation between the number of designations of a site and the existence of a publicly available management plan. The presence of a management plan was also linked to whether or not site assessments were conducted by the relevant authorities, and sites having multiple designations was weakly correlated with favourable assessment outcomes. The results of this study highlight the need to better understand the requirements of national, regional and international-level conservation designations and how they interact with each other.