Enabling conditions for community-based comanagement of marine protected areas in the United States
Comanagement is recognized, practiced, and recommended as an effective, equitable approach to place-based protection of marine resources. Despite acknowledged benefits and its potential for improved management outcomes, in the U.S., comanagement of marine protected areas (MPAs) is a relatively new approach, with limited applications. This paper reveals social, ecological and institutional conditions that enabled, or hindered, development of comanagement as an outcome of collaborative processes undertaken by community-based actors and state-based resource managers in three U.S. MPA case studies. A mixed method design, consisting of a literature review, in-depth interviews and document analysis was used to analyze MPAs in Hawai‘i, California and Florida where: (1) comanagement systems have developed between state government and community-based partners, (2) protected area boundaries and objectives are clearly defined, and, (3) marine habitat protection is a primary management objective. Eight enabling conditions were present in all three cases. Four of these conditions were consistent with preconditions identified in a published conceptual framework for comanagement arrangements synthesized from the literature and direct observations – an opportunity for negotiation, a legally mandated or brokered incentive, a willingness by local users to contribute, and leadership. Four more enabling conditions emerged from this study – connection to place, a capacity crisis, government willingness to partner, and a clear and just process. As managers strive to protect marine ecosystem function in the face of chronic environmental stressors and limited government support for environmental protection, applying these findings to leverage conditions that enable comanagement can help build community-based capacity to effectively manage MPAs.