DOCTORAL PROJECT

    Marine life is facing increasingly serious threats due to human activity. A wide array of methods is currently applied to manage and protect marine resources, such as establishing marine protected areas (MPAs). There is no single definition of an MPA and the role of each one depends on its specific objectives. MPAs should meet both biophysical objectives while maintaining sustainable use; in other words, they must ensure long-term ecological conservation of species and habitats while also considering socioeconomic outcomes. However, the effectiveness of MPAs remains largely debated, as many studies consider either the biological or the socioeconomic success of MPAs. A more universal approach to MPA management should be taken, one that address the concerns of the entire MPA ecosystem. This doctoral thesis assesses MPA effectiveness, using the Irish Sea as a case study because it is busy waterway with a rich biodiversity that remains understudied in terms of its conservation. Indeed, there is a lack of research on MPAs in the Irish Sea, despite having almost 200 designations across over 110 sites.

 

    To explore the state of MPAs in the Irish Sea, this research study first identifies gaps in their management and monitoring to determine whether there are any paper parks – MPAs that exist solely on paper and lack active management and monitoring. Irish Sea MPAs were identified and categorised using the UNEP and IUCN World Database on Protected Areas and the Marine Conservation Institute’s MPAtlas. Results of this study show a strong positive correlation between the number of designations of a given site and the presence of a management plan. The existence of management plans was also moderately linked to whether site assessments were conducted by the relevant authorities, and having multiple designations was weakly correlated with favourable ecological assessment outcomes. This study shows that not all Irish Sea MPAs are paper parks, despite many lacking active management and monitoring. There is a need to better understand the requirements of national, regional, and international conservation designations, and how they interact, to ensure favourable site conditions are met.

    This thesis addresses the issue of equity (as called for by the Convention on Biological Diversity) in three case-study MPAs (Strangford Lough, Carlingford Lough, and the Solway Firth) to better understand stakeholder perceptions. The Site-level Assessment for Governance and Equity (SAGE) toolkit, developed by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), was used to evaluate equitable governance and management in these MPAs. SAGE contains Likert-scale questions to evaluate how different stakeholder groups perceive their MPA’s management and how included they feel in decision-making. Semi-structured interviews with stakeholders provide qualitative data for the SAGE assessment. The results of this study reveal a lack of communication between MPA authorities and local stakeholders, highlighting the need for an alternative to the current top-down governance approach.

    Ecological site conditions and their monitoring are explored, using intertidal mudflats at Strangford Lough and the Solway Firth as a case study habitat. Mudflats are infrequently surveyed, making effective conservation challenging. This study uses population data of benthic species and wintering shorebirds as a proxy to explore changes in mudflat conditions on a temporal scale, using AMBI (benthic species) and Shannon-Wiener’s H (benthic species and shorebirds) values to assess habitat quality. It highlights the need for a more holistic approach to conservation management in the intertidal of MPAs, as species population data as indicators alone cannot always be relied upon to adequately assess site conditions, especially as large gaps in monitoring frequency can make it difficult to draw sufficient conclusions about the state of these habitats.

 

    This doctoral research calls for a more ecosystem-based approach to MPA management, supported by adequate resources from the institutions responsible for them. Within this ecosystem-based approach, proportionate attention should be paid to habitats, target species, and local communities when making management decisions and developing conservation targets. This research hopes to give MPA managers, policy makers, scientists, and other stakeholders evidence on which to base more effective management of MPAs.

    This doctoral research is funded by UK Research and Innovation through the LISS-DTP and is supervised by Kate Schreckenberg and Terry Dawson.

Coastwatch

Constance performs coastal surveys around Northern Ireland (particularly at Strangford Lough) for the Coastwatch project, which assess the environmental state of Ireland's coasts.

Seasearch NI

Constance became a qualified Seasearch Observer in September 2020. She contributes to data collection on marine species and habitats in Northern Irish waters on dives.

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IIED SAGE

Led by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Site-level Assessment of Governance and Equity (SAGE) initiative aims to improve the governance and equity of protected areas. Its methodology is based on the IUCN principles of governance and equity and it enables stakeholders to assess the status of governance, plan actions to improve, and monitor progress. Constance has been involved in the development of SAGE since its inception and has piloted a version of SAGE in three Irish Sea MPAs. She is currently working as an MPA consultant for IIED.

MARINE CONSERVATION PROJECTS

OTHER CONSERVATION PROJECTS

LPO

Constance has worked in the ornithology lab of the French partner of BirdLife International, the Ligue pour la protection des oiseaux (LPO) in Île-Grande, where she assisted in the rescue and rehabilitation of injured seabirds. Constance did her PhD internship with the LPO, where she led a study on the governance of the Sept-Îles marine reserve, an important nesting and migration site for these seabirds. She also performed ecological surveys of northern gannets, Manx shearwaters, cormorants, grey seals, and porbeagles in the MPA.

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Divers Action Group NI

Constance is co-coordinator of the Divers Action Group Northern Ireland (DAGNI), which brings together divers from around Northern Ireland to respond to current issues facing our marine environment. This involves responding to public consultations, proposing new sites for MPA designation, and highlighting harmful activities.