Sharks, rays and marine protected areas: A critical evaluation of current perspectives

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are increasingly advocated for the conservation and management of sharks and rays. However, substantial uncertainty remains regarding which species can benefit from MPAs. Meanwhile, area-focused protection targets have spurred recent and rapid gains in the creation of large MPAs, many of which carry vague objectives set by a diverse group of stakeholders with potentially differ- ent notions of “success.” Here, we capture and critically evaluate current views on the use of MPAs for shark and ray conservation. Through interviews with scientists, MPA managers, fisheries experts, conservation practitioners, advocates and policy experts (n = 53), we demonstrate a variety of perspectives regarding: (a) the effec- tiveness of MPAs as a tool for shark and ray conservation; (b) which factors influence the success of MPAs for sharks and rays; and (c) the desired outcomes of these MPAs. While MPAs created specifically for sharks and rays were viewed to be slightly more effective than regular MPAs as a tool for shark and ray conservation, both were generally considered insufficient in isolation. Despite greater emphasis on social success factors (e.g., local support) over biophysical success factors (e.g., size), biological outcomes (e.g., increased abundance) were prioritized over social outcomes (e.g., livelihood benefits). We argue that a stronger focus on achieving social outcomes can enhance the potential for MPAs to benefit sharks and rays. In revealing current thinking regarding the drivers and indicators of MPA success for sharks and rays, the results of this study can inform efforts to conserve and manage these species.


effectiveness, factors, marine protected areas, outcomes, shark and ray conservation, success

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