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colourful fishermen houses thailand


Community participation in Marine Protected Areas

Marine protected areas are protected by law, including no-take zones, marine parks and ocean sanctuaries. There are mixed opinions on what level of protection produces the best outcome, but what is clear is that community involvement dictates their success. We explore the increasingly prominent role of local communities in MPA implementation and regulation.


The degradation of our most loved habitats with the highest biodiversity, such as our coral reefs and seagrass beds, has drawn significant attention to current environmental problems caused by anthropogenic influence. As a result in 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, multiple signatories committed to a wider network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), to alleviate human pressure and bring back biodiversity to these habitats. However, recently the ineffectiveness of MPAs and lack of implementation has been highlighted and the 2012 goal is not projected to be reached until 2060. This has led governments and scientists to look to other solutions for marine conservation management success.

Generally, the involvement of local communities in MPA design and management is regarded as the solution to these problems. However, initial success has been met with doubt, largely due to the inability to integrate local communities into the planning stage offsetting original MPA objectives. Other shortcomings of local community integration are associated with the marginalisation of already underrepresented groups as well as problems with compliance to MPA regulations. For MPAs to succeed, the framework must be built from the ground up to involve locals and have active exchange between stakeholders and the state, as values and priorities change. This approach does not ignore or overlook any viewpoints on conflicting issues and will lead to increased acceptance of MPA guidelines.

Furthermore, increased incentivisation of participation is key, particularly in less developed nations. In regions where restrictions will impact local dependence on fishing for income, economic incentives are essential to reduce fish harvest and redirect efforts into conservation objectives. In particular, villages located far from arable land with no other form of livelihood incentivisation can address the negative connotations of MPA restrictions, showing that one approach does not fit all. Until the economic value of other activities increases beyond that of fishing, fishermen will continue to fish illegally, leaving governments to create more profitable alternatives.

In Tanzania, there has been multiple income generating projects where fishermen turn to fish farming and bee keeping to support their livelihood. In other areas gear exchange takes place, where villagers trade their illegal fine gillnets for legal larger mesh nets, thus cutting the cost of paying for a new net. To prevent a burden on local households, benefits to compensate or induce compliance are necessary, to foster sustainable use of marine resources in less developed nations.

Ultimately the level of conservation is dependent on the reaction of local communities and the integration of scientific consensus to identify MPA objectives and stakeholder priorities. Defining these areas of conflict and cooperation, and incorporating them into MPA framework is the first step to restoring critical habitats.