"How complex and unexpected are the checks and relations between organic
beings, which have to struggle together in the same country." (Charles Darwin, 1882)
Charles Darwin was referring to living organisms. I am quoting him here because
the complex, interrelated environmental problems which the world is seeing at the end of
the 20th century reveal that his observation is equally applicable to the checks and
relations between human political and administrative organizations.
We are at last realizing that everything is connected to everything else and
that the world operates as a complex process with characteristics which ensure that it
will function chaotically. That is to say, precise predictions of events and states a long
time ahead will not be possible.
The best reaction to such a situation is to proceed strategically -- that is, to
adopt policies that will put us in advantageous positions from which to take specific
actions which will contribute to our attaining our objective. Our goal is, of course,
ecologically sustainable development.
My aim is to suggest strategies which might contribute to this goal in relation
to the establishment and successful management of marine protected areas. In doing so, I
shall draw on experience from around the world that demonstrates which approaches usually
work and those which usually fail. The ubiquity of these lessons in social and natural
sciences and management reflect the apparent commonality of human attributes in all
Lessons from experience
- The most important attribute of an MPA manager is integrity. Many managers have
made the mistake of believing that they can fool some of the people some (or even all) of
the time. The consequence of this is that the manager appears to win a series of battles,
but he or she loses the war because of the accumulation of loss of trust. This eventually
leads to failure.
Local people must be deeply involved from the earliest
possible stage in any MPA that is to succeed. This involvement should extend to their
receiving clearly identifiable benefits from the MPA.
- Time spent in preparation is an essential investment that will be repaid many
Financial sustainability needs to be built in from the
Almost all MPAs contribute to the maintenance or
restitution of both biological diversity and abundance, both of which are relevant to
It is not feasible in today's marine environment to
divorce the questions of resource use and conservation, because marine natural resources
and their living space are all sought now by many different users for many different
The tendency in some areas to oppose the recognition
of fishery reserves as MPAs seems to be counter-productive, inhibiting cooperation between
fishers and environmentalists in creating and managing MPAs.
Individual MPAs and systems plans should be designed
to serve both sustainable use and environmental protection objectives, and relevant
agencies should work together in planning and management. In almost all areas of the
world, there has been a long history of conflict and lack of cooperation between
environmental and fisheries management agencies. This lack of joint action inhibits
progress in establishing MPAs and managing them wherever it is manifest.
Socioeconomic considerations usually determine the
success or failure of MPAs. In addition to biophysical factors, these considerations
should be addressed from the outset in identifying sites for, selecting, and managing
It is better to have an MPA that is not ideal in an
ecological sense but which meets the primary objective than to strive vainly to create the
It is usually a mistake to postpone action on the
establishment of a MPA because biophysical information is incomplete. There will usually
be sufficient existing information to indicate whether the MPA is justified ecologically
and to set reasonable boundaries.
Design and management of MPAs must be both top-down
An MPA must have clearly defined objectives against
which its performance is regularly checked, and a monitoring program to assess management
effectiveness. Management should be adaptive, meaning that it is periodically reviewed and
revised as dictated by the results of monitoring.
There is a futile global debate about the relative
merits of small, highly protected MPAs and large, multiple use MPAs. Much of this dispute
appears to arise from the misconception that it must be one or the other. In fact, nearly
all large, multiple use MPAs encapsulate highly protected zones that have been formally
established by legislation or other effective means. These zones can function in the same
way as individual highly protected MPAs. Conversely, a network of small, highly protected
MPAs in a larger area subject to integrated management can be as effective as a large,
multiple use MPA.
Because of the highly connected nature of the sea,
which efficiently transmits substances and forcing factors, an MPA will rarely succeed
unless it is embedded in, or is so large that it constitutes, an integrated ecosystem
The overriding conclusion from case studies of various MPAs around the world is
that success or failure is not usually determined by complex factors unique to that
particular MPA. On the contrary, they result from failure to apply these fairly simple
strategic principles. And it is usually the socioeconomic rather than the biological
factors that determine success or failure.
Why do managers fail to apply these simple, well-proven approaches? My
conclusion is that it derives from the natural tendency of humans to prefer immediate
gratification to long-term benefits. It takes a lot of self-control for a manager to
refrain from responding in-kind to insults, or to deliberately raise difficult issues with
possible opponents in order to resolve them. It is much easier, and perhaps more
"natural", to avoid difficult matters and hope that they go away, or to apply
the dictum of "an eye for an eye".
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