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 (https://marine-conservation.org/). 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.