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.