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In designing and implementing an MPA, there are a number of factors to be considered. The factors listed below need to be considered, as well as others, throughout the MPA process. Failure to consider these key aspects may be detrimental to the entire implementation process. Below is a brief overview of the main factors.


Policy, institutional and legal frameworks

At the national and local level, MPAs need to be embedded in policy and should not be used in isolation, but rather as part of a larger policy and management framework. This could be a fisheries policy, a general marine policy or a policy focused on some other marine use or development. MPAs also require an enabling legal framework and long-term political commitment to be successful. MPAs with multiple objectives may be embedded in several policy frameworks. Policy coherence then becomes important and there should be harmonization of policies, laws and institutions for MPAs as fisheries management tools and as a tool that serves broader conservation objectives.

MPAs implemented in inshore areas where local coastal communities are the direct users of the resources generally require a different policy framework than MPAs in offshore areas where users tend to have greater mobility and be less dependent on specific resources. Experience shows that small-scale coastal MPAs need to give due attention to community rights and participation and the institutional and legal frameworks needed to enable this.


How much is enough? – the total area and scale of MPAs

Various people and organizations have advocated that specific percentages of the area of a fishery or ecosystem be protected by a MPA or a network of MPAs.  If the objective of the MPA is to sustain fish populations, the linear dimension of the MPA must approximately correspond to the distance that eggs and larvae are dispersed. Individual MPAs in a network can be smaller if there is connectivity such that some serve as sources of larvae and other serve as settlement areas (or sinks). However, there is not a percentage that is generally applicable. The amount of area that should be protected depends on the objectives of the MPAs, the nature of protection that applies outside of MPAs (i.e. other fishery management regulations), and the biology of the species that are to be protected. There is no “one size fits all” answer for the appropriate size or scale or number of MPAs.


How can sustainable financing be addressed?

Sustaining MPAs may require substantial financial support. Although they should be implemented as part of a broader management system and therefore possibly sharing some overhead costs, MPAs still require specific operations and facilities related to planning, implementation, coordination, monitoring and enforcement, etc. Where possible, mechanisms and policies should be designed so that early in the process a sustainable funding mechanism for the MPA is established. In many cases, external sources of funding can only provide support within limited timeframes and thus the MPA may be at risk of becoming less functional.


What does stakeholder involvement mean in the context of MPAs?

Stakeholder involvement and participatory decision-making is important to the success of MPA implementation. However, the extent to which stakeholders are involved will vary according to the local context, objectives and design of the MPA. MPA decision-making arrangements range along a continuum from highly centralised to co-management and community-based management systems. The trend generally in fisheries and ecosystem management is towards increased involvement of stakeholders and there is a general acceptance of the many benefits shared responsibilities and participatory decision-making can generate. Support and compliance are likely to increase if people, individually, and as a group feel they have been informed, have been part of the decision making process for the MPA, and have been able to actively participate in and influence the process. Disruptions to livelihoods can easier be minimised and mitigated if those concerned are part of the planning and implementation process (see below).


Are there special considerations when designing MPAs that affect communities struggling with food security?

If planning MPAs in such a context, it is particularly important that the goals of the scope and purpose of MPAs reflect a balance between the needs and realities of sustainable exploitation, conservation and socioeconomic requirements. Combining fisheries management with capacity building and alternative livelihood opportunities that provide economic benefits in the short-run are useful to address any economic disruptions to the individual, household or community. This will be an important incentive for participation and vital for the long-term sustainability of the MPA.


How can the management of an MPA be as effective as possible?

MPAs can suffer from the same downfalls as many other management tools such as lack of funding, problems in implementation and enforcement, as well as shortage of staff. Evaluating the effectiveness of management and allowing for systematic adaptive management (i.e. learning by doing and continuous feedback mechanisms) can lead to improved performance, efficiency and goal achievement. In order for this to happen, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms have to be explicitly integrated into the overall MPA management process.


What does a MPA monitoring system look like?

MPA monitoring systems track changes in the state of MPA-associated social and environmental variables. They vary in what they measure and who does the measuring, as well as where, when, and how measurements are made. Carefully designed monitoring systems — which generally include robust performance indicators, baseline data, and control sites — can provide insights into the changes in social and environmental systems resulting from MPAs. Participatory MPA monitoring, which involves resource users and other non-scientists in data collection and analysis, provides a mechanism for increasing awareness, improving resource management, and empowering communities.

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