Making local communities visible in the MPA process

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (or marine parks) are increasingly being deployed as a way of protecting coastal and marine resources, based on scientific principles around protecting the ecological resource, in the context of widespread marine resource depletion. As such, they are a potentially positive intervention, as they seek to achieve the conservation of coastal resources as a whole for current and future generations of people. A number of claims are made about the benefits of MPAs for the environment and for local people, including that they can provide an increase in stocks in less restricted fishing areas adjacent to the protected areas. However, such benefits only occur if MPAs are properly managed (WWF, 2005a; Roberts, 2001; Gjertsen, 2005) – yet it is estimated that 80% of MPAs are protected in name only and are not being managed actively or effectively .

In some cases, protected areas in general (including land-based) have failed to sustain the wildlife populations they were designed to protect, while at the same time having a negative impact on the food security and livelihoods of local people. They have in practice been associated with forced displacement and loss of access to natural resources of those living in and around them, with inadequate or no compensation. Protected areas have therefore often led to further impoverishment of those living in poverty. This inattention paid to the livelihoods and socio-economic situation of local communities reflects a general trend in environmental conservation. Large amounts of resources earmarked for conservation are invested with only limited consideration of livelihood and poverty concerns, despite a growing consensus that poverty and weak governance are two of the most significant underlying threats to conservation. Numerous studies have found that it is often the poorest people and households that are most dependent on natural resources (Roe, 2003).

International and national guidelines for the setting-up and management of MPAs include a strong emphasis on stakeholder involvement (WWF, 2005a; WB, 2004; DEAT, 2003). However, in practice such provisions are weak, and local coastal communities are often effectively invisible in the MPA process, despite having traditionally fished in the protected areas for centuries or more, and that many rely on fishing for their livelihoods and food security.

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