New study by ESP researcher on global Marine Protected Areas is published in Nature

Photo credit: David Gill


National Geographic:

by David Gill

Over the last two decades, marine protected areas (MPAs) have become the most commonly used tool to conserve marine ecosystems globally, driven in part by international targets set to “effectively and equitably manage” 10 percent of coastal and marine areas by 2020, as well as the recent Sustainable Development Goals. As countries continue to expand their coverage and create new MPAs to achieve international national targets, many unanswered questions remain: Are MPAs meeting their social and ecological objectives? Are they being managed “effectively and equitably”? How can we ensure that MPAs deliver the ecological and social benefits they were designed to produce?

After four years compiling and analyzing data on site management and fish populations in 589 MPAs around the world, Dr. David Gill and his co-authors discovered that shortfalls in staffing and funding are hindering the recovery of MPA fish populations around the world. While fish populations grew in 71 percent of MPAs studied, the level of recovery of fish was strongly linked to the management of the sites. At MPAs with sufficient staffing, increases in fish populations were nearly three times greater than those without adequate personnel. Despite the critical role of local management, however, only 35 percent of MPAs reported acceptable funding levels and only 9 percent reported adequate staff to manage the MPA.

While the global community focuses on expanding the current MPA network, these results emphasize the importance of meeting capacity needs in current and future MPAs to ensure the effective conservation of marine species. “We’ve got the opportunity to make investments in staffing and budget to allow people to do their jobs effectively, to manage these protected sites well, and get the recoveries that are possible.” said David Gill. “The risk, however, is that as MPAs proliferate, if there isn’t a corresponding increase in capacity, you may wind up spreading your resources thin. This could result in both the old and new MPAs underperforming because they’re not fully resourced. It’s wonderful that we’re in this period of rapid growth with MPAs globally, but while the opportunity is clear, so is the risk if we are not cognizant of capacity needs.”

The authors propose policy solutions including increasing investments in MPA management, prioritizing social science research on MPAs, and strengthening methods for monitoring and evaluation of MPAs.

Their research paper, “Capacity shortfalls hinder the performance of marine protected areas globally” was published in Nature on Date; DOI: 10.1038/nature21708 (also on ReadCube).

David Gill is currently a David H. Smith Research Fellow at Conservation International and at George Mason University working with Dr. Chris Kennedy in the Environmental Science and Policy department. David Gill conducted the research during a postdoctoral fellowship supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) and the Luc Hoffmann Institute.