Community Support Boosts MPA Success

A primary goal of the Global Ocean Refuge System (GLORES) initiative is to promote Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that succeed in protecting marine biodiversity. An official name and boundaries on a map are a good start, but they are not enough to make an MPA successful. For true protection to happen, an MPA must also be well-managed, which involves the cooperation of the public, the government and the scientific community among others. Without an engaged community supporting effective management, an MPA is at risk of becoming a “paper park”, an area that seems to protect marine ecosystems on paper, but does not actually achieve its conservation goals.

Well-managed MPAs create benefits for marine ecosystems and the people that rely on them. [1],[2],[3],[4] When an MPA is designated, fishers who operate nearby often must adapt to new regulations and area restrictions. This change affects not only their livelihoods, but also the economy of their community. Ideally, all stakeholders, not just fishers, are involved in the management plan’s development and their concerns are considered from the start. However, even if they are not directly involved, their support of the protected area and their willingness to comply with regulations is integral to the efficacy of the MPA.

One way to ensure the commitment of local communities is to entrust them with management responsibilities. Myanmar’s recently designated Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) along the Myeik Archipelago is one example. The marine environment surrounding these islands has been heavily degraded by overfishing, including destructive methods like trawling and dynamite. [5] By allowing local fishing communities to run these newly protected areas and granting them exclusive fishing rights, the government has given fishers a sense of ownership and, thus, a reason to be good stewards. Since these LMMAs were only designated recently, it remains to be seen whether their successes will continue. Similar efforts have created numerous local benefits, such as improved community resilience, health, organization and governance, in addition to many environmental benefits. [6]

Hong Kong’s struggling MPA network, which does not include local communities in management, stands in stark contrast to Myanmar’s. Critics have pointed out that regulations in Hong Kong’s MPAs are not strong enough, with only 2% of the city’s waters protected. [7] The government says it is addressing these issues, but little action has been taken thus far. Only 12% of the public support expanding the MPA network, giving their government little incentive to follow through on their plans or improve the existing protected areas. Support for MPAs is high within Hong Kong’s environmental and academic groups, but it has not spread beyond those circles and there is a disconnect with the general public.

While it may take only one government official’s signature to enact an MPA, it takes the cooperation of a whole community to ensure its success. The Global Ocean Refuge System recognizes the important role that local communities play and its designation is valuable recognition of MPA managers, governments and local collaborators efforts to enact strong protection measures for our oceans. GLORES celebrates and promotes all the benefits that well-managed MPAs can offer, both for the ocean and for the public.



[1] Dixon, J. A. (1993). Economic benefits of marine protected areas. Oceanus36(3), 35-41.

[2] Gell, F. R., & Roberts, C. M. (2003). Benefits beyond boundaries: the fishery effects of marine reserves. Trends in Ecology & Evolution18(9), 448-455.

[3] Guc, S., & Pitcher, T. J. (1999). An age-structured model showing the benefits of marine reserves in controlling overexploitation. Fisheries Research39(3), 295-303.

[4] Angulo-Valdés, J. A., & Hatcher, B. G. (2010). A new typology of benefits derived from marine protected areas. Marine Policy34(3), 635-644.

[5] Fauna and Flora International. (2014). New Marine Protected Area Proposed for Myanmar. Retrieved July 2017 from

[6] Govan, H., Tawake, A., Tabunakawai, K., Jenkins, A., Lasgorceix, A., Schwarz, A. M., … & Afzal, D. (2009). Status and Potential of Locally-managed Marine Areas in the South Pacific: Meeting Nature Conservation and Sustainable Livelihood Targets Through Wide-spread Implementation of LMMAs: Study Report.

[7] World Wildlife Fund. (2017). Advocating for more Marine Protected Areas. Retrieved July 2017 from


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