Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Geography & Environmental Studies


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Scott Slocombe

Advisor Role


Second Advisor

Derek Armitage

Advisor Role

Graduate Committee Member

Third Advisor

Brent Doberstein

Advisor Role

Graduate Committee Member


The purpose of this doctoral research is to examine opportunities and constraints for integrating key aspects of governance into marine conservation strategies and for shifting top-down approaches toward collaborative and integrative forms of governance that enhance conservation and social outcomes in marine protected areas (MPAs).

Although there is evidence that demonstrates that MPAs are an effective tool for marine conservation, shortcomings in addressing ecological characteristics and particularly in addressing social factors in the design and planning of MPAs often constrain achieving conservation and sustainability goals. These shortcomings are particularly acute in MPAs implemented through top-down governance approaches that overlook stakeholder participation in planning and management decision-making and in assuming responsibilities. As an alternative to better integrate social and ecological characteristics, hybrid governance has gained prominence in the last decades; yet, the transition from a top-down towards a hybrid MPA governance model is not straightforward and mechanisms for sharing marine and coastal access rights, authority, and power are not well understood.

Based on the multiple-site case study in the Caribbean of Colombia, this research synthesizes and examines historical and development aspects under which top-down marine protected areas are established and explores the role of different components and attributes of the governance system in MPA performance. Specifically, this research analyses barriers and opportunities for moving towards shared-governance approaches and for improving MPA governance.

The multiple-site case study includes four MPAs—National Natural Park Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo, Regional Natural Park Boca Guacamaya, Regional Integrated Management District Ciénaga de la Caimanera, and Private Natural Reserve Sanguare—sharing similar bio-geographical and socio-economic characteristics, but operating at different jurisdictions (regional and national) and under different categories of management and use restrictions.

The data collection methods included: review and analysis of documents, semi-structured interviews (n=69) with key informants from the communities within or near the selected MPAs and from environmental authorities, NGOs, and the private sector; focus groups (n=6) with community representatives; and direct observation of activities carried out by locals focused on social and environmental interactions. Inductive-deductive content analysis was used for finding the main elements of governance and key interactions underpinning the overall MPA governance system.

The findings show that MPA system development in Colombia has been considerably influenced and supported by international mandates and agreements and some national policies. However, governance barriers related to government and community spheres still constrain conservation outcomes. To overcome these barriers there is a need for bringing together efforts and capacities from different actors (community, government, NGOs, academia, private sector) and recovering trust among them. A policy reform stating clear ocean management directions and allocating sufficient resources to reinforce the capacity and coordination of environmental agencies and other key actors is also needed.

One of the key opportunities that comes from this analysis, and is explored in detail through the case of the afro-descendant communities within and around the National Natural Park Corales del Rosario and San Bernardo Archipelagos, is the recognition of community territorial rights as a legal mechanism for including local communities in making decisions and assuming responsibilities in relation to MPAs.

Community territorial rights provide mechanisms (use rights, responsibilities) to support the transition from top-down toward shared governance. Rights recognition gives a voice to ethnic communities as political actors and recognizes ethnic minority communities as key stakeholders in the MPA planning and management decision-making process.

Furthermore, the assessment of governance principles in different MPA management scenarios indicates that less hierarchical institutional arrangements that facilitate interactions among stakeholders and provide livelihood opportunities increase accountability, legitimacy, participation, and knowledge exchange. These types of arrangements are more flexible to adapt to local socio-ecological characteristics.

Ultimately, this thesis provides insights for using a governance perspective to examine the dual social-ecological nature of MPAs through the understanding of governance processes, interactions, and components. The analysis of afro-descendant territorial rights implications for MPA governance contributes to understanding the underlying aspects for the application of territorial rights in MPA governance, while the assessment of MPA institutional arrangements points out the need to move beyond governance paradigms towards tailored approaches that keep the balance between social and ecological objectives.

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Convocation Season