Our oceans and the three billion people worldwide that depend on them are in trouble. Since 1970, there’s been a 50% decline in marine life populations, leaving many in danger of extinction. Effective marine protected areas (MPAs) can help address these problems. They can quadruple fish populations, provide a refuge for endangered species habitat and their nursery grounds, increase the resiliency of coral reefs against external impacts, and provide coastal communities with vital protein supplies and income.

WildAid’s marine program pioneered a comprehensive approach to marine enforcement that, over the last 20 years, has been proven to create effective MPAs. This year, WildAid has embarked on a mission to rapidly scale our marine program model globally. Together with local partners, we aim to make the promise of MPAs real, allowing fisheries, marine wildlife, and the communities that depend upon them, to recover and flourish.

We plan to do this using our newly launched BLUEprint for MPA Success, a managed framework to develop successful and sustainable enforcement systems for MPAs.Two key goals of this new framework are to increase the percentage of project sites that make the transition from planning for their enforcement system to fully implementing it, and to create measurable milestones to determine a site’s progress in establishing their enforcement system.

Over the last six months, we’ve screened 25 candidate sites for inclusion in our BLUEprint process, knowing that we currently have the resources to begin projects in just half of them. To facilitate this process, we developed a Project Feasibility Index (PFI), currently in its third version, to help us select the projects with the highest likelihood of long-term success.

PROJECT FEASIBILITY INDEX

We developed an initial version of the PFI in the first quarter of 2018 and have been testing and modifying it since. This first version was a series of yes/ no questions with room for notes and an overall recommendation at the bottom. We tested it in the field at six different sites, but when tested by three different people, the index was filled out differently by each tester. It was simply too subjective.

We modified the PFI and added a 10-point scale to each of the questions, and tested it at one site. While this version was better at creating an objective scoring system, we realized that there were some factors that would eliminate a site from consideration and that these should be our initial focus when screening a site. These included criteria such as, is it safe for WildAid staff to work there, and is there a solid on-the-ground partner interested in working with us.

In the third and current iteration, we established this list of elimination questions to ensure our staff focused their time screening sites and partners that fulfilled those basic criteria. The second section condensed our list of questions into 20 from four different categories that are rated on a 5-point scale. The higher the score, the better fit a site would be for the BLUEprint. We also incorporated an average score for each category represented by a chart. Initial results indicate that sites that achieve a 3.5 average or a 70+ overall score may be candidates for a scoping visit or moving on to the next step in the BLUEprint process—a comprehensive assessment of their enforcement system and development of a multi-year enforcement plan.

This index has thus far been tested at seven sites with consistency between users (and in the scoring) and we have plans to conduct additional scoping visits this fall to further verify its accuracy and modify it as needed.

In short, we learned that the PFI could be a valuable tool in both screening candidate sites and sharing our findings with prospective partners to help them become better candidates for the BLUEprint process. We hope that through those recommendations, those sites can eventually enter the BLUEprint process to support the success of their MPA. We look forward to sharing additional lessons learned with you all, as we continue scaling WildAid’s marine program and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to us at [email protected].