Marine Managed Areas reports


Major new reports show local ocean management to be the critical factor in improving people’s lives and ocean health

Arlington, VA – The global ocean crisis can be solved, and damage caused by human impacts can be reversed if policy makers worldwide start adopting integrated management plans for use of the ocean. At the same time, people, businesses, and communities can gain social, cultural, and economic benefits, including new job opportunities and the potential for increasing household income.

Those were some of the key conclusions of a series of sweeping new reports released today by Conservation International (CI), focusing on the value of Marine Managed Areas (MMAs) in the developing world in improving ocean health for the long-term benefit of people and local communities.

"The ocean is in crisis, and the events we are witnessing at particular sites like the Gulf of Mexico are not isolated, random incidents – but rather, symptomatic of the increasing strain of human activities", said Dr. Leah Bunce Karrer, co-author and Director of Marine Management Area Science Program at CI. "Now, we have a solution which could significantly reduce ocean degradation. It could actually revolutionize our relationship with the ocean."

Much of the research was conducted in five focal areas which include Belize, Brazil, Fiji, Panama and Ecuador, but it was informed by more than 50 studies and 100 scientists in 23 countries around the world since 2005.

Three new reports synthesize the results of this work, and offer a stunning amount of social and natural science to help guide government officials, local communities, conservationists, and private development in the long-term management of oceans.


Living With the Sea (PDF - 24.1MB)
Les Kaufman and John Tschirky

The first report, titled Living with the Sea examines the role of Marine Managed Areas in helping ocean species adapt, and even bounce back from, the increasing human impacts caused by global climate change and unsustainable development.
SCIENCE2ACTION WEBSITE: Learn more about this report.
People and Oceans (PDF - 11.5MB)
Giselle Samonte, Leah Bunce Karrer, and Michael Orbach

In People and Oceans, scientists highlight the direct connection between a healthy ocean and human wellbeing, which include improved livelihoods, better food security, and increased support for cultural traditions.
SCIENCE2ACTION WEBSITE: Learn more about this report.
Marine Managed Areas: What, why, where (PDF - 22.1MB)
Michael Orbach and Leah Bunce Karrer

The third report, Marine Managed Areas: What, Why, and Where lays out a roadmap to successfully implement and navigate the challenges of new MMAs.
SCIENCE2ACTION WEBSITE: Learn more about this report.


Marine Managed Areas (MMAs) are defined in the reports as multi-use ocean zones that typically encompass several types of smaller areas, such as no-take fishing zones, activity-restrictive buffer zones, or areas dedicated to specific uses, (like ecotourism, commercial fishing, or recreation). That is, to say, they are flexible, holistic, and integrated by design. The primary goal of an MMAs is to maintain the health and value of an ecosystem while accounting for all of the different uses people may have for a part of the ocean, balancing the competing needs of protecting marine ecosystems – with providing critical resources to human populations.

Among the many ecological findings presented in Living with the Sea, scientists discovered that a number of marine species are primarily local, spending their entire lives in one small area and adapting uniquely to the conditions there, rather than migrating and reproducing in distant ecosystems. As a result, the research concluded that good governance at the local level in maintaining healthy local habitats can prevent the loss of biologically unique, rare, or endangered species.

"The fact is, one-in-five grouper species, one-in-three species of sharks and rays, and one-in-three species of reef-building corals, are facing extinction. Most people don't realize that," said Dr. Gregory Stone, Chief Ocean Scientist and Senior Vice President for Marine Conservation at CI. (see fig. 1) "As species disappear, entire ecosystems are altered in negative ways we don't even want to imagine."

"So the message for coastal communities is this: if you want access to these resources tomorrow, you have to take care of your backyard today," Stone added.

Also highlighted in the report are remarkable case studies that demonstrate how locally managed MMAs can help grow dwindling stocks of wild fish both within – and outside – protected area borders. MMAs even support the natural ability of impacted species like coral reefs to repair themselves from the harmful effects of human impacts once these are reduced.

"This potential to build resilience in marine ecosystems is among the most stunning findings of the reports, and a cause for real optimism," said CI's Senior Vice President for Science and Knowledge, Dr. Andrew Rosenberg. "The ocean can heal itself, and provide for people – as long as we make coordinated efforts to set aside areas that can flourish with minimal disturbance from human impact, and manage those impacts outside the protected areas."

In People & Oceans, a "growing awakening" about the vital connections between the ocean and people's quality of lives is described, following an exhaustive review of more than 35 social science studies in 20 countries. The conclusion: MMAs improve human well-being by diversifying livelihoods (see fig. 2) and more than doubling household income in eight MMAs where it was studied (see fig. 3), as well as reducing conflict among people who use the ocean, and increasing human health and access to food with increased catches.

"We were also excited to learn from the studies that local populations of people using MMAs have a greater sense of empowerment, they demonstrate increased community participation, and they showed an increased awareness of, respect for, and compliance with environmental concerns," said Karrer. (see fig. 4)

"It's completely obvious: the benefits of coordinated action far outweigh the risks of continued inaction," added Stone, who is also a Co-Chair of the Ocean Health Council. "Marine Managed Areas are a win-win for people and the ocean".

Produced by a global network of seventy-five organizations known as the "Science-to-Action" partnership, the studies and publications were primarily supported by a grant from The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Each report offers a specific set of science-based recommendations for Marine Managed Areas that highlight lessons learned for government agencies, private businesses, local communities, and marine managers.

Key partners in the publications include: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, National Geographic, University of British Columbia, Boston University, Duke University, University of South Pacific, World Fish Center, University of Belize, Healthy Reef Initiative, Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network.

Select success stories from Living with the Sea and People and Oceans

  • Case study: MMAs give fish stocks a chance to recover, and spill out into unmanaged areas - Half Moon Caye National Monument, Belize – Over the course of approximately five years, this comparatively small no-take fishing zone some 70 km. offshore, improved both the number and size of large, coral reef supporting parrotfishes in the larger marine managed area surrounding it. The spillover of these fish suggests that similar ecological repair can follow in the entire Meso-American Reef with proper management.

  • Case study: MMAs provide an enforcement structure that allow depleted fish stocks time to recover, Kona Coast, Hawaii – effective enforcement along the coast of the Big Island, which includes fish replenishment areas, has effectively created a nursery to help exploited populations of ornamental yellow tang fish recover and spread to other parts of the coast, where their collection is permitted.

  • Case study: MMAs help nature help heal itself, Phoenix Islands & Line Islands – among the large numbers of coral that were bleached and killed in the El Nino warming event of the 1997-98, scientists discovered that the islands that offered better protection, fewer human impacts, and more fish, created an environment which allowed coral reefs to regenerate – an important discovery in understanding how ecosystems might adapt to global warming. Today, the Phoenix Islands reefs are, according to the report, "self-healing" and "regenerating with extraordinary vigor".

  • Case study: MMAs help unique, threatened species avoid extinction, Florida Keys – A marine managed area that includes a no-take marine reserve and a national park with limited recreational fishing, helped two threatened species of fish – the Mutton snapper & the Hogfish - increase their numbers by as much as 300 percent compared to areas that were fully fished (see fig. 5)

  • Case study: MMAs support biodiversity, which increases the economic value of the area for local people, Cabo Pulmo, Mexico – The 15 year old Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park in Baja California has inspired coastal residents to treat it as a no-fishing zone, and given high-profile predatory fish the chance to thrive. Increased numbers of snappers, groupers, and sharks – 20 times more than any equally-sized area in the Gulf of California – have created a commercial market value of US $60 million for the park, and driven a thriving ecotourism and sport-fishing business to the local community.

  • Case study: protected species in MMAs lead to increased tourism and more job opportunities for local people, Galapagos Marine Reserve, Ecuador – a ban on top predators such as hammerhead sharks, in the Reserve has allowed these species' populations to increase – and attracted new tourism money and job opportunities for local residents

  • Case study: Locally managed MMAs help to preserve local customs and cultural traditions, Fiji – a survey conducted among residents of 12 coastal villages in Fiji's four Marine Managed Areas found that 90% of respondents reported that the MMA served to protect their traditional livelihood and cultural heritage of subsistence fishing

  • Case study: MMAs secure economic values of oceans for local communities and foreigners, Coiba National Park, Panama – a study of the future economic value of Coiba National Park projected that direct economic benefits from tourism and fishing activities over the next 20 years will reach $36 million U.S., a direct benefit of the park's protected status that would otherwise not be realized


Graphics available for download and use by the media:

Access to the reports:

Notes for Editors:

Conservation International (CI)
Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. For more information, visit

Science-to-Action (S2A)
Science-to-Action is a partnership of over 75 organizations led by Conservation International's Marine Management Area Science Program. This global network puts science into action at the global to local levels by translating and communicating scientific insights into decision making processes. Working in over 23 countries for the last 5 years, this network draws on the natural and social sciences to further conservation efforts. For more information, go to