Strategic Adaptive Management of MPAs - towards inclusive and evidence-based MPA management

Kenya Wildlife Service
Published: 08 February 2016
Last edited: 21 December 2020
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The Strategic Adaptive Management (SAM) approach is part of the SMART Seas Africa Network, and is applied by government agencies to develop evidence- and learning-based practices that increase MPA effectiveness. SAM builds capacity by (1) guiding staff in translating broad agency goals into measurable objectives, (2) engaging staff and stakeholders in MPA monitoring and (3) providing a framework to use data to inform and evaluate management actions. Managers and stakeholders think through what information is needed for evaluation, and researchers learn about management needs.


East and South Africa
Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Ecosystem services
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Pollution (incl. eutrophication and litter)
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Inefficient management of financial resources
Lack of access to long-term funding
Lack of technical capacity
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Lack of infrastructure
Aichi targets
Target 1: Awareness of biodiversity increased
Target 2: Biodiversity values integrated
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 14: Ecosystem services
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience
Target 19: Sharing information and knowledge


Mombasa, Kenya | Tanzania, Seychelles


Marine protected areas (MPAs) are essential to conserve marine biodiversity. Most nations have agreed to protect ≥10% of coastal zones by 2020. However, in the 2.8% of the ocean currently in MPAs, there are significant shortfalls in management effectiveness. MPAs require long-term management that is science-based and flexible to ensure that promised ecological and social benefits are achieved.


Government agencies, local communities (fishermen, beach vendors, tour operators) and society (through enhanced delivery of ecosystem services).

How do the building blocks interact?

  1. Capacity building helps managers and community understand the social-ecological system and prepares them for setting objectives and Monitoring.
  2. Objectives (with scientifically based targets) provide a framework that guides what data is needed to assess MPA status.
  3. Data can then be either accessed from existing data sets or requested from researchers in appropriate formats.
  4. Monthly monitoring augments existing data and increases manager and community understanding of what data means.
  5. Monthly review of status of objectives allows evaluation of where management action is needed. Then, in next months, effectiveness of actions can be assessed as each objective (and associated indicators) are tracked.
  6. Actions targeted at priorities (based on data) lead to conservation gains in areas most needing attention.


The application of the SAM approach has led to innovative conservation solutions, by bridging science and MPA management. Demonstrated impacts include:

  1. Increased management capacity and passion for conservation among MPA staff and local community members.
  2. Removal of invasive species and clean beaches maintained (management actions).
  3. Enhanced sharing of information between scientists and managers.


Jennifer O'Leary

In 2009, we established SAM (Science for Active Management) with the Kenya Wildlife Service to help East African MPA managers and local fishers understand and manage their reefs. When the program started in a single Kenyan MPA, managers had a very low understanding of marine systems, and one MPA had lost many corals. Fishers felt disengaged from MPA management and were not actively managing their fishing grounds. Most people working on the beaches had no knowledge of marine ecosystems. Through SAM, managers, fishers, and beach stakeholders received training in marine ecological and social systems and learned to conduct scientifically sound monitoring. MPA managers and fishers were guided through the process of developing measurable social and ecological objectives for marine systems. MPA rangers (with stakeholders) then started monthly social and ecological monitoring to document changes in the system as they occur. The results of using science to empower communities have exceeded expectations. Prior to SAM, the MPA social system felt apathetic. Now, you can feel the excitement when entering an MPA. For five years, rangers have been collecting and analyzing data, and findings are comparable to those of experienced researchers. Rangers now train their peers in monitoring and management techniques, and have taken major management actions: invasive species were removed from MPA beaches to enhance turtle nesting, corals damaged by fishing are being restored with help from fishers, and the public beaches that were covered in plastic trash for decades are clean. These efforts have had impact beyond the MPA: the county government has made plastic-free beaches a priority, and locals are proud of their environment. Over 550 people attended a recent beach cleanup, including police forces, hoteliers, beach vendors, and the Minister of Tourism. Fishers and Kenya Wildlife Service rangers jointly explored levels of fish spillover from MPAs. Beach vendors have become MPA ambassadors, resulting in an increase in domestic tourism to MPAs. “MPA Champions” have surfaced from all sectors. For example, Champion Pascal Yaa is a fisher who keeps meticulous records of coral damage in fishing grounds and now serves as a peer trainer for fishers in best practices.

Contributed by's picture

Jennifer O'Leary California Polytechnic State University

Other contributors

SMART Seas Africa Network
Kenya Wildlife Service