Improving MPA management: Bringing benefits to people

WWF's Global Marine Programme is working around the world to ensure that local people are involved in MPA management.

We are also helping to provide sustainable livelihoods and alleviate poverty in communities living within and near MPAs.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) can provide benefits to local communities living in or around the park.

For example, MPAs help increase fish populations, which lead to better catches for local fishers. They can also provide new sources of income for local people, such as through the tourism industry and park management.

To help ensure these benefits, we are working to:

  • Involve local communities in MPA management

  • Use tourism to alleviate poverty

  • Provide alternative livelihoods to people living within MPAs.

Why involve local people?

Many MPAs are home to large human populations. Without the support of these local communities, the MPAs will never be successful. Therefore it is absolutely crucial that local people are involved in park management and that they benefit from the park.

The benefits provided by well-managed MPAs - such as sustainable livelihoods and food security - also give incentives for local people to help safeguard the MPA.

Breaking out of poverty

San Pedro, Belize, presents perhaps the premier example of a community that has lifted itself out of poverty through assertive local management of its marine resources. 

Now one of the key tourist destinations in Belize, in the early 1980s the town was a poor coastal community trying to resolve growing conflict between fishing interests and other users of the nearby Hol Chan channel - an area of magnificent coral formations and with some of the Caribbean's greatest diversity of marine life.

Bleak outlook...
It looked as if uncontrolled fishing and development would decimate Hol Chan, as well as its adjacent seagrass beds and mangroves. Overfishing had already removed large predatory fish from the reef and depleted conch and lobster populations, while developers were starting to clear the mangroves and seagrass beds to build hotels.

... turned around
Following a lengthy consultation process, fishers, local tour operators, and conservationists agreed to a zoned marine reserve protecting Hol Chan, seagrass beds, and 7 mangrove islands, as well as to the regulation of fishing round the reserve. WWF helped to implement and fund this solution, and Hol Chan Marine Reserve was formally created in 1987.

Since then, the town has been hugely successful in protecting Hol Chan and capturing the benefits of tourism for local welfare. New jobs created by the tourism industry have raised the income level, and themselves created new jobs in supporting services (such as in banking and shops). In addition, the fishing sector, while smaller than it once was, benefits from better catches (more and bigger fish) and more market choices from the tourists in town. On top of this, fees charged to tourists to enter the reserve cover its running costs.

Local involvement key to success
A key element of San Pedro's success is that local people are the chief beneficiaries of the tourism industry. Tourism assets (hotels, restaurants, etc) are owned by a diverse group of local people, and the town has successfully prevented the proliferation of externally owned all-in-one resorts - which have denied some other Caribbean communities much benefit from tourism. This success is largely due to the high level of public consultation in setting up the park, and the strong local cooperative traditions nurtured in the fishing industry.

The path has not been completely smooth, but San Pedro has been much celebrated. A comparative study of several MPAs in the Caribbean and their socio-economic effects concluded that the Hol Chan Marine Reserve is an unqualified "ecological success" which is "fundamental" to a local tourist industry. 

Surveys show that San Pedranos themselves overwhelmingly believe that the high level of protection given to Hol Chan is the key to their enhanced welfare - indeed, the most common complaint is that it should be more protected from tourists, in particular those in the care of non-local guides attached to cruise ships.

This feedback from local people and the evidence of empowerment and success in strengthening local voices attests to the viability of a successful marriage between conservation and human development goals.
 / ©: Anthony B. Rath / WWF
Snorkelers on a tourist boat Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize.
© Anthony B. Rath / WWF

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