Community-based Tools for U.S. Marine Protected Area Planning and Management (2014)

Client Organization: 
NOAA National Marine Protected Areas Center
Project Location : 
U.S.-wide and British Columbia, Canada
Summary of Project Idea: 

Although marine protected areas (MPAs) in the United States are typically planned and implemented through a top-down, legislative approach by federal or state government agencies, aquatic resources managers are increasingly becoming aware of the value in additionally incorporating more bottom-up, community-based mechanisms in marine protected area planning and management.

Community-based MPAs have been shown to be highly effective in other parts of the world. However, this approach is still relatively new in the U.S. and there is insufficient information available for managers seeking to engage their local communities. There is a need to gather information about successful approaches to community engagement in MPA planning and management in the U.S., and to share this information with both MPA managers and community members.

Our master's project team was enlisted by NOAA's National Marine Protected Areas Center to conduct a needs assessment and to investigate the current status of community engagement by U.S.-based MPAs. We defined "MPA" as any areas where natural and/or cultural resources are given greater protection than the surrounding waters, and our research included National Marine Sanctuaries, National Estuarine Research Reserves, and National Parks in coastal regions that encompass aquatic areas. Our primary objectives were to explore the ways in which MPA staff are engaging with their local communities, and to collect information on the successes and challenges that MPA managers and community members face when trying to promote collaboration with one another.

We gathered information by conducting phone interviews as well as by traveling around the country to meet in-person with key players from various MPAs and adjacent local communities. In addition, we developed and launched an email-based survey of MPA managers. Our finished product is a community engagement toolkit, distributed online to make it easily accessible to both MPA managers and community members. The toolkit serves as a guide that outlines common challenges to community engagement and discusses key principles for practice. Dozens of examples of programs and methods from MPAs across the country that exemplify community engagement strategies are also presented. Although certainly not a comprehensive list of all successful engagement efforts around the country, these diverse examples are meant to provide inspiration for both managers and communities that wish to strengthen community involvement in their MPAs. By synthesizing the information we gathered in a central location and making it available in this manner, we hope to facilitate communication between MPA managers in the U.S. so that they might build on one anothers knowledge to develop more effective community-based mechanisms for MPA planning and management.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Conservation Ecology (Aquatic Sciences, Terrestrial Ecosystems, and Conservation Biology)
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Julia Wondolleck
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Katie Davis, MS Conservation Ecology
  • Matt Ferris-Smith, MUP/MS Behavior, Education and Communication
  • Margaret Lee, MS Conservation Ecology¬†
  • Samantha Miller, MS Behavior, Education and Communication/Conservation Ecology
  • Joe Otts, MS Environmental Policy and Planning
  • Michelle Zilinskas, MS Environmental Policy and Planning/Behavior, Education and Communication
Project Status: 
Past Project