Lack of funds and staff prevent Marine Protected Areas from fulfilling full potential

Shortfalls in manpower and funding prevented many MPAs from fulfilling their objectives

Although Marine Protected Areas appear to be the ideal way forward in our bid to safeguard our marine resources, a new study has highlighted the fact that many of them are underfunded and understaffed.  

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have proven to be a good way to protect marine biodiversity. More and more of them are being established. In just the last two years, over 2.6 million km2 have been added to the area of global oceans covered by MPAs, bringing the total to over 14.9 million km2. However, a new study has revealed that most of MPAs have yet to reach their full potential because of a lack of adequate staff and funds.

The findings of the study are published in the Nature journal last week. In the four-year study, site management and fish population data of 589 MPAs was compiled and analysed by Dr David Gill and his team.

Dr Gill had conducted the research during a postdoctoral fellowship supported by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) and the Luc Hoffmann Institute. The team discovered that shortfalls in manpower and funding prevented many MPAs from fulfilling their objectives.

We set out to understand how well marine protected areas are performing and why some perform better than others. What we found was that while most marine protected areas increased fish populations, including MPAs that allow some fishing activity, these increases were far greater in MPAs with adequate staff and budget,” said Dr Gill.

Specifically, while fish populations increased in 71% of the 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 almost three times greater than those insufficient personnel. In addition, only 35% of MPAs reported acceptable funding levels and only 9% reported adequate staff to manage the MPA.

"These results highlight the potential for an infusion of resources and staff at established MPAs – and at MPAs in the pipeline – to enhance MPA management and ensure that MPAs realise their full potential,” said Dr Helen Fox of the National Geographic Society, who led the research initiative together with Dr Michael B Mascia of Conservation International.

The good news is that this is a solvable problem. MPAs perform better when they have enough staff and an adequate budget,” she added.

To remedy the situation, the authors propose policy solutions like increasing investments in MPA management, prioritising social science research on MPAs, and strengthening methods for monitoring and evaluation of MPAs. According to Gabby Ahmadia, WWF’s lead marine scientist,

While the momentum around the creation of new marine protected areas is exciting, it’s essential that we don’t leave existing MPAs behind. This research highlights the need to be thoughtful and critical about how we support existing MPAs to optimise benefits for both people and nature.

An example project of MPA which works out well.