MPA management and monitoring
Our Project Seahorse team was very committed to ensuring that MPAs would be viable and enduring.
Community-based MPAs get off to a good start in enjoying reasonable compliance but, even so, the hard realities of monitoring, evaluation, enforcement, and funding remain.
We supported villagers in developing the participatory monitoring often considered so central to MPA durability. However, it was actually difficult for villagers to collect meaningful ecological or enforcement data. Obstacles ran from technical challenges – e.g. limits on swimming ability and potential to process data – to motivational challenges in repeating surveys. So we also maintained professional monitoring.
We discovered the value of revising MPA management plans and indicators of success over time. Our research showed that indicators of effectiveness for community-based MPAs change as MPAs and local conditions evolve: newer MPAs evaluate success on how much people put into their MPAs (such as progress in enforcement) whereas older MPAs were intent on people getting more out their MPA (such as increased fish abundance or catch).
Most villagers were very committed to their MPAs, showing the compliance that is a vital ingredient in MPA success. Nonetheless, enforcement is an ongoing challenge for all MPAs and certainly true in the central Philippines, where extreme poverty drives intense fishing pressure. Fishing grounds for different villages overlap greatly, making it ever difficult to keep fishers from becoming poachers in MPAs.
We helped communities to define the boundaries of their MPAs and then to keep intruders out of them. Most villages built guardhouses and established systems of rotating guards to protect the MPA. The bravery of such guards – often facing down guns or explosives – speaks to their confidence that the MPAs mattered to the marine environment, especially to their fisheries.
Fishers and other community members became ever more vested in the success of their MPA as they saw the benefits. Most importantly, they were excited by returns of large fishes to their MPAs, increase in species diversity, and gradual recovery of the corals. Such changes were easy to detect because most of our MPAs had been set up in depleted and damaged areas.
Funding remains a central challenge to these MPAs. Although community-based MPAs can be relatively cheap, money is still needed for management and enforcement. And these are very poor communities, already committing a great deal of volunteer effort. A few generous donors provided support to sustain the MPAs but much more is needed.