Marine protected areas (MPAs) are widely implemented to conserve ecological and cultural sustainability. Whether the goals of MPAs are to conserve ecological, social, or cultural aspects of a region, community engagement is often posed as a prerequisite for effectiveness. Though there have been papers exploring some human dimensions and governance of MPAs, few studies have focused explicitly on the community engagement aspects in coastal communities. In this study, I interviewed key informants to understand the barriers and opportunities to community engagement in Caribbean MPAs. Informants described difficulty in optimally facilitating engagement when there are funding and staff (expertise and capacity) constraints. I found that it is important to facilitate a diversity of engagement methods to meet various objectives, which should be clear from the onset of the engagement activity. Some under-recognized methods of engagement, such as communication, may have a role in enhancing MPA operations but they should not be the only method to engage community members. Finally, informal methods of engagement offer an opportunity to build trust without the resources that are typically demanded by more structured methods of engagement. As community engagement continues to be promoted by funders and researchers, we must understand how it is currently conducted and the perceptions of its validity.
Miranda Bernard is a Smith Conservation Research Fellow at Duke University (USA). She explores the interactions between coastal communities, marine conservation interventions, and environmental stressors. She has previously worked on issues spanning the role of community engage in Caribbean marine protected areas, the protection of ecosystem services through fisheries certifications, and waste management policies and interventions. Currently, Miranda is investigating the differential impacts of marine threats and management actions within coastal communities to better assess equity in decision-making processes.