Research Profile | Natascha Jaspert | MSc Marine Science & Climate Change

Beyond Marine Paper Parks? Evaluating the Success of German Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the North Sea
2nd February 2024

Describe your MSc project?

My research project aimed to (1) evaluate the concept of marine protected area (MPA) success in the scientific literature and (2) assess the management and governance of German MPAs in the North Sea and was accompanied by a part-time internship with the Marine Conservation Institute ( By applying the MPA Guide, a science-based framework to evaluate the likely outcomes of MPAs worldwide, this project used real-world scientific procedures to assess the current status of six German MPAs in the North Sea. With approximately one-third of marine species classified as endangered and ecosystems at risk due to high anthropogenic pressures, the North Sea is a highly interesting area for examining MPAs closely. As part of the European Union, Germany is bound to several directives to enact marine conservation and further contracted to frameworks and initiatives such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the ‘Blue Leaders’ Initiative. With 45 per cent of German territorial Waters under protection, Germany is, by quantity alone, one of the countries on track to accomplish international commitments to safeguard biodiversity. However, the success of MPA management efforts in Germany remains unclear.
The MPA Guide assessments show that German MPAs lack successful management and governance. Although most of the MPAs are actively managed, meaning regulations are in place on the water, collaboration is pursued and continual monitoring is conducted, the level of protection remains little with MPAs being found to be predominantly incompatible with nature conservation. This is mostly attributed to destructive fishing practices that are being carried out in the North Sea and active oil and gas platforms that jeopardise conservation efforts. Interviewed German stakeholders and managers are not oblivious to the current status of German MPAs and report on different actions taken to enhance MPA success. With a comprehensive literature review, this research project provides a synthesis of common success indicators for MPAs creating a good reflection on the shortcomings of German MPAs and recommendations for improvement. Although every MPA is very unique in its features and local context, there is no blueprint for achieving success and each MPA has its path to success. However, some attributes showed to be indicators of success including collaboration, scaling up human dimensions, capacity building, research and monitoring and adaptive management. Germany exhibits a few of these indicators but lacks cohesive regulations mostly due to political barriers. There is still a long way to go to achieve international commitments and implement MPAs successfully in Germany. Especially, the political entanglements create difficulties for MPA success in Germany as policies are made at the regional, national and EU-level.

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

The bulk of this research project consisted of a desk-based literature review. For this, I had to learn how to apply effective research methods that allow me to review a high amount of literature in a short time. Comprehensive training was provided to familiarise me with The MPA Guide and how to apply it during my internship. The MPA Guide evaluates the stage of establishment and the level of protection of a certain MPA or its’ respective zones. This is linked to the enabling conditions and the potential outcomes of MPAs and therefore presents a wholesome approach for evaluating the effectiveness of MPAs worldwide. Thanks to the internship, I had the opportunity to experience a real-world scenario of marine conservation work and gained a lot of insights and knowledge due to the incredible support of the whole team. Interviews with the “Deutsche Umwelthilfe” (DUH) and the federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) were conducted to gain insights about German MPAs and highlight perceptions of different stakeholders on marine conservation.

Stage of establishment and level of protection categories that are assessed using The MPA Guide (

Were there any partners/stakeholders on your project?

The official partner for this project was the Marine Conservation Institute as they allowed me to intern with them. A special thanks, although not official stakeholders, goes out to the DUH and the BfN for taking time out of their schedules to support this project.

Why should the public know about this topic?

Marine conservation, commonly attempted through MPAs, is a highly relevant topic these days. The degradation of marine ecosystems puts the benefits we derive from these systems at stake and threatens our way of living. Tracking the real progress towards international commitments is crucial to not let a false sense of protection prevail in the public and scientific community. Transparency and education are essential tools to enhance conservation effectiveness and management success by highlighting not only the ecological but the socioeconomic benefits of MPAs.

What is the wider impact of your research?

Not only does this research educate the public, especially through the implemented science communication strategy, but the outcomes of this dissertation could serve German MPA managers, policymakers and other organisations as a baseline assessment. I am hoping that the MPA assessments will be uploaded on MPAtlas after a review of key informants to ensure correctness and hence contribute to the worldwide assessment of MPAs. Further, this research could be expanded and used as guidance to evaluate the Baltic Sea MPAs of Germany.
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Comments from Head of School

Marine Protected Areas are a much debated topic in conservation due to arguments of ‘quantity versus quality’ i.e. rush to designate MPAs against the lack of ensuring of adequate management, governance, monitoring or enforcement.
 Natasha’s project is hugely important and impactful in terms of marine conservation and policy, particularly against the backdrop of global protection targets of 30 % of marine areas protected by 2030. Her project consisted of assessment of German MPAs using the MPA Guide assessment framework. Working with the Marine Conservation Institute as a stakeholder and completing her dissertation, whilst interning with them, speaks volumes about her dedication. Her work will feed into on-going work at MPAtlas, which evidences the quality of her work and ability as a researcher.
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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