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Under the microscope: protecting large oceans

Partner story

Photo: © Anne Henshaw / Oak Foundation

Over the last 15 years, Oak has made significant investments in Marine Protected Areas (see recent assessment). As a team committed to learning from these investments, Oak supported a multi-year research study to better understand the political, social and economic dynamics at play in the creation of large scale marine protected areas (MPAs). While the importance of coastal communities to near-shore MPAs are well documented, less attention has been paid to the human dimension of large-scale MPAs.

In 2014, the Environment Programme wanted to assess particular sites at different stages of development within the large MPA movement from a social science perspective. With co-funding from several of Oak’s peer foundations (including the Waitt, Robertson, Tiffany and Lyda Hill Foundations), Oak made a grant to Colorado State University (CSU). A team of social scientists from CSU, Duke University and the University of Guelph subsequently began in-depth field research in sites where large scale MPAs have been established or considered.

The work of the three-year project was carried out in Bermuda, Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile), Palau, Kiribati and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands & Guam. These sites vary in terms of development, governance approach and geopolitical context. The project aimed to better understand the human forces at play and the kinds of social outcomes that have resulted in the MPA movement.

In March 2018 the team completed the project and presented the results to the Environment Programme. Click here to read the major lessons learned. Of particular interest were some of the positive and negative social outcomes connected to different sites that hold implications for future work in this field. These include such issues as: restructuring national economies (Palua); the desire of social benefits (Pheonix Islands); focus on Indigenous Rights (Rapa Nui); concern for unfulfilled promises (Mariana’s Trench Marine National Monument); and an erosion of social trust and confidence (Bermuda). For more information, click here for a recent publication on the social outcomes of large-scale MPAs.

Written by Anne Henshaw, marine conservation sub-Programme officer, Environment Programme.