Question: What are the outstanding issues related to MCAs?
Answer: Marine Conservation Agreements may require organizations to resolve historical, philosophical, organizational, and legal issues.
There is no shortage of important issues that conservation entities should consider when evaluating whether Marine Conservation Agreement (MCA) best practices are applicable to their projects. Many of these issues are detailed within the Phase 1: Feasibility Analysis of the MCA Field Guide. There are, however, some overarching issues to consider relating to historical uses and practices, philosophical perspectives, organizational missions, and legal interpretations and perceptions.
It is vital to consider the historical context within which an MCA project will take place. Are the stakeholders, including communities and local authorities, conservation-minded? Do they have a history of progressiveness and open-mindedness? Is there a track-record of conservation success in the area? What are the historical land and sea tenure systems in the area? These and other historical issues will either provide helpful jumping off points or unhelpful obstacles for MCA projects. While the latter situation should not stop a project in its tracks, conservation entities should leave more time for outreach and relationship building when historical obstacles exist.
Some people within conservation organizations and management agencies find it difficult to overcome long-held philosophical beliefs regarding conservation and the roles of private and public agencies. For example: Is it right for conservation organizations to have to pay for conservation? Is it right for private organizations to take over the conservation responsibilities of public agencies? Is it right that conservation is considered a use? One of the difficulties in overcoming philosophical beliefs such as these is that they are often held for such long periods of time that the answers are considered fact instead of philosophy. Discerning between fact and philosophy and then addressing the philosophical barriers to MCAs can be a time consuming and sometimes impossible task. In rare cases, it may be necessary to wait until people with more amenable philosophies are in decision-making positions.
Many conservation entities, especially those focusing on oceans and coasts, are not accustomed to acquiring or directing interests in the lands, resources or ecosystem services they are trying to protect. Often, ocean and coastal conservation entities focus on advocacy, outreach, education, science, and policy-making as opposed to direct, in-water activities. As such, prior to taking on MCA projects, organizational capacity should be considered, in terms of desire, time, expertise and funding needed to acquire or oversee management of sites, resources and services. If entities do not currently have the capacity, they should consider if it is possible for them to acquire the capacity in the near term.
The legality of MCAs is the bottom line—entities must determine if applicable laws and policies are amenable to acquiring or helping manage interests in lands, resources and ecosystem services that are often considered part of the public commons. Entities may be able to overcome historical, philosophical, and organizational issues, but if the law does not allow for MCAs then projects can go no further. However, similar to philosophical obstacles, many long-held beliefs about legal possibilities are often a matter of perception as opposed to policy. It is often believed that laws do not allow for MCAs simply because the relevant laws have always been applied to commercial operations. If this is the case, overcoming the misperceptions is an obvious necessary task. If this is not the case and the relevant laws directly or indirectly prohibit MCAs, then laws may need to change. The desire and ability to advocate for changes in local, state, or federal laws is a major decision which should be weighed carefully against other goals and activities.