Research Profile | Kellie Rana | MSc Marine Science & Climate Change

Kellie Rana describes her research project on factors contributing to success in MPAs , whilst simultaneously conducting an internship with the Marine Conservation Institute.
10th May 2023

Describe your MSc project?

My research project focused on shifting towards the decentralisation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), specifically through the use of co-management practices. MPAs are a key ocean conservation and management strategy, helping to protect marine biodiversity and ecosystems. While there has been a substantial increase of MPAs globally over the past decade, most fail to reach their goals, becoming “Paper Parks.” One of the main issues attributing to an MPA’s failure is its lack of consideration for socio-economic factors in its planning and implementation processes (which is more apparent in centralised governed MPAs), thereby impacting human well-being. MPAs tend to infringe on and exclude local coastal communities living in or near the MPA(s), often resulting in conflicts, reduced compliance to its regulations, and a general lack of support for the MPA.
There is substantially less information and studies done on the human dimensions of MPAs compared to ecological effects. Thus, this research looked at the social components that could influence an MPA’s success and then aimed to scale-up human dimensions into the planning and implementing processes of MPAs through the inclusion and consideration of these components in governance processes.
My research deduced that globally, MPAs with decentralised governance regimes tended to have more successful outcomes than those with centralised. Out of the decentralised ones like community-based, co-managed, and traditional, co-managed MPAs showed the most success in achieving biological and social objectives, especially in countries situated in Asia and Oceania. This is a significant finding because these countries often rely on the oceans for sources of food and income, so the main purpose of having an MPA is actually for food security rather than conservation (which are found more in developed, Western countries). It is important to understand this as MPAs are not a one-size-fits-all but rather each having their own purpose, goals, regulations, and culturally different consequences. Despite these differences, it was conclusive that by including local communities and especially key stakeholders like fishers, indigenous peoples, and women, the support and success (biological and social) of MPAs increased. More importantly, with the inclusion of human dimensions, an MPA can go beyond just achieving its goals- it can sustain them long-term.

What type of research has it involved and what skills have you learned?

As my project was desk-based research, it mostly comprised of a literature review. It involved significant scrutiny of journal articles, theses, and government documents which were then analysed according to various factors that would impact an MPA’s potential to succeed like governance scheme, participation, perception, social capital, and so on. I essentially compared governance types and their outcomes of over 100 MPAs to gain insights into what makes an MPA successful.
To build on existing literature, I developed a framework based on 14 socio-economic factors that I found to be primarily affecting the success rate of MPAs that can be used to score an MPA on their socio-economic performance. Developing this framework helped improve my Excel and rose chart diagram skills. Ultimately, my research project demanded I be adept at data analysis and scientific report writing as well as learning to visualise my findings in an enticing way that was also accurate and concise.

Were there any partners/stakeholders on your project?

I interned with a U.S-based non-profit organisation, Marine Conservation Institute (MCI), working with their Blue Parks Internship during the entire course of my research project. The staff at MCI, who were also my internship supervisors, are highly knowledgeable scientists who helped me gain invaluable insights into the field of MPAs and the marine science realm. It was a cool experience to intern with this organisation as I had the opportunity to evaluate MPAs around the world which could help them in winning an internationally-recognised award for outstanding MPA practices. I even used a few of those MPAs that had co-managed or community-based governance as some real-world examples to help add to my research.

Why should the public know about this topic?

MPAs have great potential to conserve marine biodiversity, provide food security, generate livelihoods and income, but only with the proper management and public support/engagement. If the public understands more about MPAs and their purposes, they are more likely to abide by its regulations and could also offer different perspectives in managing the MPA more effectively. There is limited knowledge about MPAs amongst the public yet most people would agree that they want to protect marine life and the oceans. Thus, it is important for more people to be educated on and engage with MPAs in their area.

What is the wider impact of your research?

While for many people, MPAs are out of reach or out of sight, there are millions around the world that depend on the oceans for sources of food, income, and livelihoods. As climate change exacerbates the effects of overfishing and overexploitation, these coastal communities are impacted the most.
My research project targets the social science aspect of MPAs that is often overlooked since it’s qualitative research that is more tedious and ambiguous than studying ecological effects. Nevertheless, it is just as important to study because MPAs rely on public support and engagement especially when it affects communities that live in the area and vulnerable groups like indigenous peoples and women fishers. MPAs affect millions of people worldwide, so it seems to me that it should be obvious, but also necessary, to study the human component before an MPA is even established. There is not much known about human well-being, cultural ties, gender differences, economic incentives/viable alternatives and how that affects the success of MPAs. My research has touched on all these topics, thereby adding to the limited knowledge in this area and has noted key findings that could help MPAs achieve its goals both ecologically and socially.

Comments from Head of School

Kellie’s research is both timely and is hugely important as Marine Protected Areas, whilst not a new construct, is an important tool in marine policy and conservation. The official IUCN definition of MPAs: ‘A clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values (IUCN 2012). Whilst recognised, but until recently, not universally adopted, preservation of biodiversity has been the main focus and the human-dimension has been over-looked or unaccounted for.
We thank the Marine Conservation Institute and particularly, Jessica MacCarthy and Sarah Hameed for the opportunity afforded to Kellie via an internship.
Dr Awantha Dissanayake, Head of School (Marine & Environmental Sciences)
  • MSc

    Master in Marine Science & Climate Change

    Designed and delivered by expert academics and scientists, this full or part-time interdisciplinary programme blends theoretical study with practical, field-based work. You will cover specialist subject areas and gain the skills required to tackle the complex issues associated with the sustainable development of marine ecosystems.[...]

    1 Year

    No Placement option

    Full Time

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