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Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an integral component of local, national and global strategies for biodiversity conservation, fisheries management and preserving essential ecosystem services, but their contribution to sustainable development remains contested. Advocates tout MPAs as a win-win strategy for conservation and poverty alleviation, while skeptics argue that MPAs place the welfare of fish above the well-being of impoverished fishing communities. Current evidence is largely anecdotal and seemingly contradictory, with wide variations in the social and biological performance of MPAs. Because scientists have not yet convincingly explained these variations, decision-makers set marine resource policy not knowing whether their choices will benefit people, the environment, or both.

To discover what works, what doesn’t, and why, our interdisciplinary team is conducting innovative and collaborative work on the links between marine protected areas (MPAs), sustainable fishing, and livelihoods., Current projects include multiple projects in Indonesia and a global synthesis study (see PROJECTS page for more details). The team continues to explore new directions to learn how to design MPAs to deliver benefits to people as well as biodiversity, to share results with decision-makers, and to ensure a good “return on investment.”


The initiative “Solving the Mystery of Marine Protected Area Performance” was officially launched at WWF’s 2010 Fuller Symposium New Perspectives on MPA Performance: Linking Knowledge to Action, although co-founders Helen Fox and Mike Mascia had been laying the groundwork for several years before that with reviews and conceptual work. Louise Glew and Gabby Ahmadia are leading and continuing to develop the initiative.