The remarkable marine and coastal biodiversity of the western Indian Ocean (WIO) is vital for ecosystem health and local livelihoods, as well as commercial and international fisheries markets. Yet throughout the WIO, government agencies often lack the finances and resources to effectively manage the region's vast coastlines, and overexploitation has contributed to unprecedented degradation of fisheries stocks and marine ecosystem health in recent years. Exacerbating the effects of direct human exploitation, climate change impacts, such as increased frequency and intensity of warm water episodes and severe tropical storms, have further weakened the resilience and productivity of already stressed ecosystems.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a useful tool for both mitigating direct human pressures on the marine environment and buffering ecological resilience to climate change. However, unless MPAs are appropriately managed and provided with adequate resources, they may be ineffectual at meeting conservation objectives. Indeed many of the WIO's MPAs currently suffer as a result of insufficient management resources at the community and government level, weak enforcement, or a lack of respect or awareness by neighbouring communities. Such limitations are often inevitable within conventional 'top down' approaches to coastal management, sometimes greatly undermining the potential effectiveness of MPAs.