Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an increasingly deployed spatial management tool. MPAs are primarily designed for biodiversity conservation, with their success commonly measured using a narrow suite of ecological indicators. However, for MPAs to achieve their biodiversity conservation goals they require community support, which is dependent on wider social, economic and political factors.

This study explored stakeholders’ perceptions of what MPA success is. A series of semi-structured interviews were conducted with a diverse group of stakeholders local to a South Australian MPA.

The results showed that what constitutes success varied by stakeholder group, and stakeholders’ stated understanding of the purpose of the MPA differed from how they would choose to measure the MPAs success. The authors state that all interviewees stated that the primary purpose of the MPA was ecological, yet almost all would measure the success of the MPA using social and economic measures, either exclusively or in conjunction with ecological ones.

The authors highlight that their findings show that success is not straight-forward and what constitutes success depends on who you ask. It is stated that even where an MPA’s primary ecological purpose is acknowledged by stakeholders, stakeholders are likely to only consider the MPA a success if its designation also demonstrates social and economic benefits to their communities.

The authors conclude that to achieve local stakeholder support MPAs and associated monitoring programs need to be designed for a variety of success criteria in mind, criteria which reflect the priorities and needs of the adjacent communities as well as national and international conservation objectives.

Yates et al. (2019) Purpose vs. performance: What does marine protected area success look like? Environmental Science and Policy 92:76-86.