Agardy’s networks – bridging gaps?

Agardy, T. (2005). “Global marine conservation policy versus site-level implementation: the mismatch of scales and its implications.” Marine Progress Series 300: 243-248.

Tundi Agardy takes on the issue of scale in EBM as part of the MEPS Theme Section on Politics of EBM, noting several areas where the scale of management actions and the scale of ecosystem problems do not match. She points out that most conservation projects, which occur at the local level, cannot possibly deal with the scale of problems that occur in LMEs and globally. At the same time, a critical point she makes is that generic, large-scale policy making does not fit local needs and often is not adequately supported financially. In one of the most quotable quotes in the EBM debate, she notes, “a mismatch occurs between what is actually happening and what decision makers assume is happening.” This mismatch seems to occur all over the place in conservation planning and probably is exacerbated in EBM examples. We see it between the lofty goals listed in websites for a particular EBM initiative and what is occurring on the water. We see it between the letter of a law and its implementation (see Rosenberg et al. 2006 recent review of stock rebuilding—or lack thereof—despite the mandates of the 1996 MSA).

Agrady uses the development of MPAs as an extended example of scale mis-matches. She argues (probably correctly) that virtually all MPAs are too small to do their job. More precisely, it may be that their scope is too limited (e.g., as long as they are Marine Protected Areas, they won’t be putting upland areas off limits to, say, fertilizer application). MPAs also create responses in the human socio-economic system in which they were created, as Duke Nicholas School economist Marty Smith has pointed out. Agardy brings up the idea of MPA networks as a solution to the ad hoc and incomplete nature of MPAs as they’ve been implemented thus far. MPA networks are not merely networks of reserves, but rather systems planned to address the multiple, interacting impacts to a given habitat. Agardy notes that MPA networks can be designed to address the socio-economic aspects and can operate at a range of hierarchically nested scales.

In reading this piece I was immediately reminded of an argument by World Bank Vice-President Jean-Francois Rischard to create independent “Global Issues Networks” which eschew centralized bureaucratic institutions in favor of networks of localized experts that coalesce around a global problem of urgent need (e.g., global warming, income disparity, clean water availability). Rischard’s idea of “networked governance” driven by Global Issues Networks mirrors both the scale and operation of the MPA networks envisioned by Agardy and others. These type of networks also fit the semi-autonomous organizational structure that Geerat Vermeij says is central to the success of much of the diversity of life (as discussed by me elsewhere in the Knowledge Base).

Agardy acknowledges in the terrestrial world attempts to tackle large conservation issues through systematic action at a range of scales have often been less successful than opportunistic small-scale efforts. However, she notes that marine systems are much different than terrestrial—especially in terms of the common property nature of marine resources—and that these differences point toward large scale and cooperative solutions. Agardy concludes with the nice argument that MPAs provide a sense of place to parts of an ocean that was previously considered fairly homogeneous. She mentions some examples of regional MPA networks (such as those proposed by California’s MLPA) but it would be of particular note here if these have actually made progress on the water – coming full circle to the mismatch between “what is actually happening and what decision makers assume is happening.”


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