Improving MPA manager networks worldwide: Networks Twinning learning exchange held in Tarragona, Spain

Improving MPA manager networks worldwide: Networks Twinning learning exchange held in Tarragona, Spain

There exists a variety of tools in the world of marine conservation that aim to assess the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and a number of studies have tried to answer the question of what makes an MPA effective in protecting and preserving marine ecosystems. Of course, MPAs don’t exist in isolation; they are part of much wider ecological networks in the ocean. In a similar way, many MPAs and their managers are also connected to other MPAs via human networks focused on improving management effectiveness. At the Ocean Governance project, we believe that these human networks of MPAs are crucial in laying the groundwork for effective marine conservation by offering valuable support to managers. The value of networks in marine conservation is – also through the work of the Ocean Governance project – increasingly recognised at the international level of ocean policy.

Learning exchange based on the desk study on MPA manager network effectiveness

Despite the widely appreciated value of MPA manager networks, little research has been done on the question of what makes such a network effective. This prompted the Ocean Governance project’s MPA Networks Twinning to address this. The result is an evaluation framework for MPA Manager Networks, which includes an in-depth analysis of 13 existing networks from a wide geographical scope. The study was first presented during the Fifth International Marine Protected Area Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver, Canada. Since then, partners of the MPA Networks Twinning have been keen to apply the evaluation framework to their own MPA networks. To this end, the Twinning held a two-day learning exchange on MPA manager network effectiveness based on the desk study from 18-19 September in Tarragona, Spain.

Participants from around the world at one table

The learning exchange convened 15 representatives of MPA manager networks from the Caribbean, North America, the Eastern Tropical Pacific Marine Corridor, the Patagonian Sea, West Africa, the Western Indian Ocean, the Yellow Sea, the ASEAN region and the Coral Triangle Region. The meeting was facilitated by Dr. Puri Canals, Team Leader of the Ocean Governance project and the MPA Networks Twinning, and Charles Besançon, key expert for the project and lead author of the desk study on MPA manager network effectiveness. The study identified seven ‘enabling conditions’ which each network needs to assess in order to understand its current level of effectiveness and identify opportunities for improvement. These are: (1) legal and administrative arrangements, (2) sustainable finance, (3) clarity of purpose, (4) model good governance, (5) adaptive leadership, (6) capacity building, and (7) communication and performance monitoring.


Guiding questions from the study

The guiding questions for each enabling condition provided in the desk study structured the meeting and inspired lively discussions and exchanges. The participating MPA networks were in different stages of development, from the SPAW RAC network whose first planning meeting takes place in October, to MedPAN, which has been operating in the Mediterranean for 14 years. The meeting was therefore a great opportunity for knowledge-sharing, with newer networks greatly benefiting from the advice of their more experienced counterparts. Lucie Labbouz, Protected Areas and Networks Officer at the SPAW RAC Regional Activity Centre, expressed her appreciation for the initiative:

Like many people, I don’t have time during my day-to-day work life to take a step back and to deeply think about the processes we are implementing. During this learning exchange, we had two entire days to think, reflect, learn, discuss and exchange between peers on MPA manager networks. I felt really empowered and can’t wait to bring back to the Caribbean all the experiences and lessons learnt during this Network Twinning Learning Exchange.”

There is no one-size-fits all solution for MPA networks

Participants discussed a range of topics and shared examples and anecdotes from their individual experience in running MPA manager networks. All shared the sentiment that it is challenging to effectively communicate and demonstrate the benefits of MPA manager networks to national governments, as well as potential donors. Many of them spoke of the need to raise awareness about the importance of MPA manager networks both internationally and within their respective regions. The MPA Network Twinning members highlighted the importance for networks of setting clear goals and objectives. Differences between the networks were also identified, and it became clear that the models of governance, legal and administrative arrangements and monitoring processes varied greatly between them. While some approaches may be better than others, the participants agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to MPA networks. Catherine Dougnac from the Forum for the Conservation of the Patagonian Sea concluded:

“The learning exchange was an amazing opportunity to learn from each other not just about technical issues, but about ourselves, and enhance our understanding of the world and the ocean. In our differences, we share a common vision for the governance of the ocean, and it is inspiring to face the challenge of effectively managing MPAs together.”

Food for thought, innovate ideas and new connections

The learning exchange on MPA manager network effectiveness left the participants with food for thought, innovate ideas and new connections that should serve them to strengthen and grow their MPA networks. As members of the MPA Networks Twinning, they also attended the Ocean Governance project’s Global Conference, which took place in the three days following the Learning Exchange, where they presented their work and how they benefit from the global network of MPA manager networks.

If you are interested in the desk study on MPA manager network effectiveness, you can download it here.


PRESS RELEASE: International conference to connect marine protected area managers across oceans

19 September. For immediate release

Tarragona, Spain – From 20-22 September 2023, the city of Tarragona will host a global conference bringing together marine protected area (MPA) managers and partners from around the world. Organised by the EU Ocean Governance project, the conference aims to strengthen cooperation between MPA managers and networks across different regions and support effective marine conservation globally.

For three days, over 70 participants from more than 30 countries in the Atlantic Ocean, Southeast Asia and beyond will share experiences and tools developed through the EU Ocean Governance project’s activities: restoring coral reefs and mangroves; building resilience to climate change impacts; protecting marine mammals; and promoting transboundary collaboration. The event will also be streamed online, allowing many more people to take part.

The conference will facilitate open discussions on how to sustain and expand project activities that connect local, national, regional and international ocean governance. Participants will also explore contributions to new international agreements like the UN treaty on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Global Biodiversity Framework.

A key objective is to launch a permanent global network connecting regional networks of MPA managers. By joining forces across oceans, MPA practitioners can more effectively implement international policies, improve management skills, and reach the CBD target to conserve 30% of the global ocean by 2030.

“The EU Ocean Governance project shows the power of cross-regional cooperation to tackle threats like habitat loss and climate change,” said Dr. Puri Canals, Ocean Governance project Technical Coordinator and Team Leader. “This conference is a unique chance for MPA managers worldwide to unite behind a shared vision for healthy, resilient oceans.”

The city of Tarragona is an ideal location, with its own protected area reflecting the EU’s Natura 2000 network. A field trip to close the conference to Punta de la Móra, an EU Natura 2000 Coastal Area, will showcase local conservation efforts and coastal erosion challenges.

The EU Ocean Governance project is implemented by a consortium led by GOPA Worldwide Consultants, with B&S Europe and WWF Indonesia, and funded by the European Union’s Service for Foreign Policy Instruments.

To learn more, visit or contact:
Katharine Mill, (International), tel: +44 7762 121 495.
Bárbara Casado, (Spanish media), tel: +34 661 116 544

Derawan Islands MPA and Tun Mustapha Park: First MPA exchange visit for ecosystem restoration and collaborative learning in Sulu-Sulawesi seascape

Derawan Islands MPA and Tun Mustapha Park: First MPA exchange visit for ecosystem restoration and collaborative learning in Sulu-Sulawesi seascape

The Sulu-Sulawesi seascape, shared by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, harbours some of the most diverse and productive marine biodiversity in the world. However, due to rapid population increase, unsustainable development and growing risks from climate change, coastal ecosystems and the livelihoods they support are under tremendous pressure. Against this backdrop, the EU Ocean Governance project is implementing ecosystem restoration initiatives in the region: these include coral restoration in Tun Mustapha Park (TMP), Sabah, Malaysia, and Derawan Islands marine protected area (MPA), Indonesia, and mangrove restoration in Balabac Island, the Phillippines. These sites are important for marine biodiversity and the coastal communities that depend on this, hence the restoration methods are tailored to each particular environment.

In order to continue improving the management of the MPAs involved, the project has established a number of dialogue platforms and networking opportunities. One of these networking opportunities was an MPA exchange visit between Derawan Islands MPA, Indonesia, and Tun Mustapha Park, Sabah, Malaysia, that took place from 14 to 18 August 2023. The visit consisted of a learning exchange, coral monitoring workshop and field visit, to exchange ideas and knowledge about coral rehabilitation using rock piles in Derawan Islands MPA. Each session involved the relevant stakeholders, including MPA managers, NGOs, public and private sector representatives, and community members from Derawan Islands MPA and Tun Mustapha Park.

Learning Exchange and Coral Restoration Workshop

The learning exchange is designed to foster dialogue about coral restoration and rehabilitation methods, MPA management, community involvement, sustainable fisheries and tourism practices, surveillance, and effective marine protection policies. A dialogue platform created by the learning exchange aims to build and strengthen continued networking between the MPAs. On the second day of the exchange visit, a coral restoration monitoring workshop was held to update on the progress of coral restoration in Tun Mustapha Park and in Derawan Islands MPA. The workshop was attended by the Coastal and Resource Management Authority of Pontianak, the Marine and Fisheries Authority of East Kalimantan Province, the Fisheries Authority of Berau, the Cultural and Tourism Authority of Berau, the Derawan Village government, the Surveillance and Control Marine and Fisheries Agency, the women’s groups of Derawan Village and the representative community group involved in the coral rehabilitation project in the Derawan Islands MPA.

Progress of coral reef restoration in Derawan Islands MPA

Joni Ramadani, representative of the community group of Derawan Islands MPA, stated, “Based on the reef health monitoring in the Derawan Islands MPA in 2021, generally, the percentage of hard corals’ live cover was 32.80 per cent. This number shows the relatively moderate coral reef health condition category, which is 35 to 40.9 per cent”. “However, damage to the coral reefs, presumably due to bombings, and to the anchors of the tourist and fishing boats, has been found in some places. Thus, in order to improve the coral reef ecosystem, a suitable rehabilitation method is needed for Derawan Island,” he added.

In Derawan Islands MPA, WWF-Indonesia, working with the authorities and the community, used the rock-pile method for coral reef rehabilitation in selected areas such as the North Gusung Senggalau, the East Gusung Senggalau and the Karang Tebba Binga. Monitoring showed that the rock pile structure has provided a natural substrate to attach coral planula in three rehabilitation sites. The average density of hard coral recruitment corals in rock pile structures was 2.4 colonies per square metre in May 2023, or 10 months after the rock pile installation. Furthermore, it also showed an increasing rate of coral recruitment and new coral colony establishment, as well as fish abundance and biomass.

Progress of coral restoration in Tun Mustapha Park

In Malaysia, the coral restoration project is continuously expanding. Similar to the restoration method used in Derawan Island, the MARRS Reef Star (RS) method is implemented in Tun Mustapha Park as well. Currently, 980 units of reef star frames with 14 700 coral fragments have been installed at three different sites with varying site characteristics and water conditions, covering about 800 square metres of the park. 

Four hundred units of RS frames were deployed at Maliangin Kechil (Site A) and, later, 300 units of RS in Pitas Floating Coral Bar (Site B), the result of cooperation with a local tour operator known as Archangel Borneo Holidays Sdn Bhd. The most recent deployment of 280 units of RS was effected from 27 to 29 June 2023 at Site C, also at Maliangin Kechil. Twenty RS units were handed to the team in Semporna to test MARRS Reef Star, and today the restoration with RS is culminating as a result of the deployment activities carried out. In many cases, the engaging process of preparing and deploying the RS empowers local communities who then serve as catalysts for the empowerment of neighbouring communities, creating a ripple effect.

Many local actors were involved in the process of MARRS coral restoration, from fabrication to coating to deployment of the RS. They included participants from Sabah Parks, WWF-Malaysia, nearby local communities of Tun Mustapha Park, who participated voluntarily, and several academic representatives as well as students from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS).

All restoration sites are being monitored regularly by community divers from Banggi Coral Conservation Society (BCCS) and Kudat Turtle Conservation Society (KTCS), research teams from Sabah Parks, as well as officers from WWF-Malaysia. Representatives from UMS are also often involved in consultations and provide input to the restoration efforts. The restoration work at Tun Mustapha Park will also potentially grow in number and area as Sabah Parks is soon to launch a Coral Adoption Program with a web platform designed for coral conservationists and enthusiasts alike.

Fostering Collaboration and Inspiring Change

Topics such as MPA management, fisheries, tourism and MPA community empowerment were discussed extensively by representatives from each respective discipline attending the MPA exchange visit. Through these exchanges, the Derawan and Tun Mustapha teams were able to build lasting networking relationships.

The Malaysian participants were genuinely impressed by the impeccable cleanliness and efficient management observed at Derawan Islands MPA. Equally noteworthy was the warm hospitality extended by the island’s community. Notably, the participants had an invaluable opportunity to engage in discussions with the village chief of Derawan Island, gaining unique insights. This encounter served as a powerful source of motivation for all attendees throughout the rest of the event. The Malaysian participants, in particular, expressed a strong enthusiasm to incorporate some of the practices they learned about at Derawan Islands MPA into their efforts at Tun Mustapha Park.

In sum, the six-day event proved to be exceptionally engaging and fruitful for all involved.


Resilience twinning partnership holds capacity-building workshops for MPA managers in Colombia and Brazil to boost skills in preparing for rapid changes

Resilience twinning partnership holds capacity-building workshops for MPA managers in Colombia and Brazil to boost skills in preparing for rapid changes

 In late spring 2023, the Ocean Governance project’s resilience twinning partnership organised two ‘training of trainers’ (ToT) workshops to enable professionals working in MPA management to understand risk and resilience issues and practise using the Resilience Self-Assessment Tool (R-SAT) developed by the twinning.

The workshops were held in Brazil and Colombia, after the US in April, and comprised a presentation of the Resilience Self -Assessment  tool, practice in carrying out collective and individual MPA resilience assessments, group discussions of results and recommendations, and gave participants the skills to train others in how to apply the R-SAT tool.

22 MPAs represented

Thirteen people attended the training event in Brazil, which took place in Vitória, the capital of Espírito Santo state on 23-25 May 2023, including the managers of 10 federal MPAs, 1 state MPA, and officials from the Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade

The Colombia workshop, which took place in Cartagena de Indias on 13-15 June 2023, was attended by 15 professionals, including 11 MPA managers from sites governed by the national parks agency, Parques Nacionales Naturales Colombia, plus 4 agency officials. For the twinning, Lilian Wetzel and Jean-Jacques Goussard facilitated the training.

Brazil, the country with the largest national Atlantic façade, is a historical partner of the resilience twinning, having joined during the earlier EU Transatlantic Partnership Project on MPAs. Colombia was the first opportunity for the twinning to present the R-SAT tool in a country with both Caribbean and Pacific coastlines on the invitation of a national authority.

Learning from good practice elsewhere

The resilience partnership facilitators presented the EU Ocean Governance project and the resilience twinning itself, sharing examples of “good practices” developed by the project’s partners in the USA (New Jersey), Senegal, Brazil, Gabon, Mexico and Portugal to deal with rapid changes, such as climate change and tourism impacts, within and around MPAs.

They then presented the R-SAT platform and kit, showing resources, number of assessments and countries and feedback from managers. They introduced the criteria and explained how to insert data into the platform, produce results from the web platform, and provided comments on patterns of results and future developments.

Following a ‘live’ assessment

In each workshop, one MPA manager then conducted an open assessment of their MPA, coached by a facilitator, allowing others to observe the evaluation process. In the Brazil workshop, this was carried out by the manager of a protected area affected by the 2015 Samarco dam disaster in Minas Gerais. In the workshop in Mexico, the manager of Gorgona Island National Park MPA in the Pacific conducted the live assessment.

Then the participants did their own self-assessments offline, discussing common issues with each other and the trainers, before uploading their data onto the platform.

In the Brazil workshop, the group spent time on the following day looking at their results and discussing patterns in the analysis graphs – noticing for example differences in results of longer-established and newer MPAs. In both trainings , participants learned how to retrieve assessment data, analyse graphs, and make recommendations, using 3 MPAs as the basis for this analysis.

The twinning team collected feedback from the participants in both workshops about the tool and the training itself, discussing how both could be developed and applied more widely in each country. Both events were highly successful and instructive for participants and the twinning partnership alike.

Next training: Mexico

A final training is scheduled with Mexico’s national protected areas agency, the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP), at the beginning of October, for 22 MPA managers from Mexico’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

Presenting the Ocean Governance project at Sustainable Ocean Initiative workshop for East, South and South-East Asia

Presenting the Ocean Governance project at Sustainable Ocean Initiative workshop for East, South and South-East Asia

The EU Ocean Governance project was delighted to take part in the capacity-building workshop of the Sustainable Ocean Initiative (SOI) for East, South and South-East Asia, held on 5-8 September 2023 in Seoul, Republic of Korea.

The SOI is a global platform created in 2010 on the margins of the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in Nagoya, Japan. It responds to the need for training and capacity-building of developing country parties to the CBD, with regard to marine conservation and management. Implemented by the CBD secretariat with partners, the SOI aims to build partnerships and enhance capacity to achieve the global goals and targets on marine and coastal biodiversity.

The regional workshop was attended by representatives of parties to the Convention from Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as several international organisations and stakeholder groups.

The workshop began by scene-setting the regional and national context, hearing from partners about environment, biodiversity and fisheries issues in the region, and sharing national priorities, challenges and experiences.

It continued with an overview of Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and its relevance for marine and coastal biodiversity, including approaches to implementing targets 1-4, on spatial planning, restoration, protection and conservation, in alignment with regional goals and strategies.

It was during this session that Puri Canals, OG project Technical Coordinator and Team Leader, present the project’s work in South-East Asia, in ecosystem restoration, knowledge exchange, networking and transboundary cooperation, describing how the four components of the Ocean Governance project contribute to targets 1-4 [see info box below].

The workshop then covered sustainable fisheries and the GBF, before continuing with a presentation and discussion on targets 6, 7 and 8: related to invasive alien species, pollution and climate change.

Participants took part in a discussion on developing strategies and/or action plans to accelerate the implementation of the GBF in their region or countries, and presented their respective strategies, opportunities, next steps, and action items, developing these further before the workshop closed.

Puri Canals said: “We hope that the EU Ocean Governance project’s activities to support ecosystem restoration, knowledge exchange, networking  and transboundary cooperation in South-East Asia over the past three years can provide a useful example for countries and regions as they plan strategies and actions to contribute to Global Biodiversity Framework targets.”

GBF Targets 1-4

Target 1: All areas are planned or managed to bring loss of areas of high biodiversity importance close to zero.

Target 2: 30% of degraded areas are under effective restoration.

Target 3: 30% of areas are effectively conserved.

Target 4: Threatened species are recovering, genetic diversity is being maintained and human-wildlife conflict is being managed.