The global extent of marine protected areas (MPAs) has increased rapidly in the last decade, and monitoring and evaluation are now required for effective and adaptive management of these areas.

This study classified monitoring in MPAs into four categories and identified a critically important, but undervalued category: human pressure monitoring that targets human activities and their impacts.

The authors state that human pressure monitoring is fundamental for interpreting the results of ecological performance monitoring and for evaluating MPA management effectiveness. It is also said that the consequences of ecological performance monitoring that show unsuccessful MPA performance while falsely assuming successful mitigation of human pressures could jeopardize MPA performance analysis and adaptive management, and thus be worse than not monitoring at all.

It is highlighted that human pressure monitoring enables using MPAs as reference areas where the effects of global or regional pressures (e.g. climate change) can be disentangled from the effects of local human activities. The study stresses that in the absence of human pressure monitoring, all ecological monitoring within MPAs falls in the ambient monitoring category: monitoring that is not intended to measure conservation outcomes.

The study also discusses the implications for monitoring programme design and provide a structure for decision-makers on how to prioritize monitoring activities within MPAs that place greater emphasis on improving MPAs as biodiversity conservation tools over proving MPA performance.

Dunham et al. (2020) Contextualizing ecological performance: Rethinking monitoring in marine protected areas. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems DOI: 10.1002/aqc.3381