Debating the effectiveness of marine protected areas

Increasing the size and number of marine protected areas (MPAs) is widely seen as a way to meet ambitious biodiversity and sustainable de- velopment goals. Yet, debate still exists on the effectiveness of MPAs in achieving ecological and societal objectives. Although the literature provides significant evidence of the ecological effects of MPAs within their boundaries, much remains to be learned about the ecological and social effects of MPAs on regional and seascape scales. Key to improving the effectiveness of MPAs, and ensuring that they achieve desired outcomes, will be better monitoring that includes ecological and social data collected inside and outside of MPAs. This can lead to more con- clusive evidence about what is working, what is not, and why. Eight authors were asked to write about their experiences with MPA effective- ness. The authors were instructed to clearly define “effectiveness” and discuss the degree to which they felt MPAs had achieved or failed to be effective. Essays were exchanged among authors and each was invited to write a shorter “counterpoint.” The exercise shows that, while experi- ences are diverse, many authors found common ground regarding the role of MPAs in achieving conservation targets. This exchange of per- spectives is intended to promote reflection, analysis, and dialogue as a means for improving MPA design, assessment, and integration with other conservation tools.

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