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.
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.