Innovative blue water MPA design, implementation, and enforcement


Marine protected areas (MPAs) are well-established conservation tools that have been shown to confer resilience to a diversity of marine ecosystems in near-shore, coastal areas. However, little research has been conducted to evaluate how large-scale off-shore MPAs can be scaled, enforced, and innovatively designed to effectively protect marine biodiversity and ensure the long-term viability of economically valuable fish stocks. In addition, the effectiveness of existing MPAs is hindered globally by a lack of capacity for management, enforcement, and monitoring, and new insights regarding alternative paths to MPA implementation have not been thoroughly investigated. This is particularly true for “blue water” MPAs, which encompass large-scale, open ocean areas. 

In partnership with Conservation International (CI), we are exploring a set of research questions related to blue water MPA design, implementation, and capacity improvements to help guide large-scale investments in ocean conservation.


We are conducting strategic research based on stakeholder input that will inform the establishment, design, and enforcement for blue water MPAs to promote desired biodiversity conservation and ecosystem service outcomes. We are also identifying specific opportunities for technology and new institutions to enhance blue water MPA effectiveness, with a focus on enforcement capacity and preventing illegal and unregulated fishing. Some of the potential research questions we are currently scoping include:

  • How can blue water MPAs be designed to ensure the protection of a wide range of species and ocean biodiversity, particularly non-target and bycatch species?
  • How can blue water MPAs be designed to account for fishing effort redistribution and support fisheries management goals?
  • What kinds of illegal and unregulated fishing behaviors can be monitored using recent technological advances like satellite and other remote technologies?
  • How can new technologies be used to shift the burden of proof off of regulators and onto potential offenders? 
  • What aspects of current self-enforcement models and access agreements are highly effective, where might they fall short, and how can they be adapted or generalized for blue water MPAs?


This project is in collaboration with Conservation International (CI) as part of the Arnhold UC Santa Barbara-Conservation International Climate Solutions Collaborative. UCSB and CI launched this initiative through generous support from John Arnold (UCSB '75) to unify their demonstrated expertise and networks to conduct cutting-edge applied research to yield tangible, progressive solutions and propel the careers of emerging environmental professionals.