Whose Marine Protected Area?


Introducing guest contributor Jessica Tengvall

Hi, I am Jessica! I am dedicated to the marine underwater life. The past six years I have been studying to become a marine biologist and communicator. In 2018 I have spent six months working with fisheries and fish ecology for the organisation 'Marine Conservation Philippines'. This year (2019) I will move to Norway to start my PhD on sustainable harvesting of marine fish working for the University of Bergen. I enjoy scuba diving and have dived at several locations around the world. This year my goal is to learn to read waves and get into surfing. 



Marine protected areas (MPAs) are well-known and used globally to protect and maintain biodiversity. It can also serve the purpose of protecting natural and cultural resources. Generally, it is an area in the ocean where human activities are more strictly regulated. The concept can be great for both people and the marine ecosystem. However, considering both people and marine life in a balance is difficult. Failing to find this balance is where marine protected areas might suffer and even lose their purpose. Yet, marine protected areas can maintain food sources, provide income and jobs whilst protecting biodiversity.


Diving into the issue

Conservationists usually consider both marine life and humans, however at times the human aspect does become forgotten. This is where MPAs may suffer due to a lack of support for the MPA by the people, which can lead to poor management or no management at all. If humans are forgotten in the process of implementing an MPA, it can lead to no one honouring the rules set up.


Especially in small communities dependent on fisheries as a source of food and income it is important to consider how a protected area can be organised to also benefit people. Since these communities are highly dependent on the ocean for food and income, forgetting humans in local communities could put them at risk. That is why governments and other organisations need to consider the human aspect and encourage people before implementing a protected area. Without the support of the people the MPA stands no chance of being effective.



Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines, which celebrates its 30 years of being a marine protected area this year. Credit: Jessica Tengvall.

Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines, which celebrates its 30 years of being a marine protected area this year. Credit: Jessica Tengvall.

Marine protected areas have the potential of having such a great impact in these communities that we cannot afford to implement what is often referred to as paper-MPAs. When a protected area is called a paper-MPA, sometimes it stems from the fact that they have only been implemented to “look good”. These types of MPAs do not consider people or marine life. In this case, paper-MPAs are merely designated areas usually of no significance for anything or anyone. Thus, enforcement becomes lost and MPAs actually lose the effect that they can have.


Encouraging people

There can often be a tendency to not uphold the interest of marine protected areas due to a lack of support from the community, especially when MPAs come across as not being beneficial or relevant for people. However, the lack of relevance can be overcome by including people in the process.


In local communities the enforcement of an MPA needs to be supported by the community in which the area exists. When MPAs are implemented without passion and encouragement from governments and organisations it can lead to non-supportive people. Encouragement should occur before the process of implementation begins. The MPA should be brought to local communities in a suggestive format to give people a chance to consider the restrictions and give suggestions. People should feel that the MPA is theirs and that they are in control of it. This does not mean that governments or organisations should not be involved in implementing and enforcing the MPA. They should merely act as providing guidance, suggestions and continuously monitor the MPA.


By encouraging people and letting everyone feel that MPAs are publicly owned might lead to more effective MPAs. Paper-MPAs would be avoided since people would have a say about where and what restrictions should apply. Marine protected areas are for everyone to benefit from – both humans and marine life alike. This can provide a sustainable sea where humans and marine life simpler can live in harmony with each other.



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