To ensure our research results resonate broadly, we engaged a variety of researchers and practitioners working on large MPAs in an early discussion of our interests. Their input informed the identification of both our case studies and research questions.

Key Questions

Our research addresses five key themes:

1) Scoping unique human dimensions

  • Which human dimensions — social, political, economic, cultural, and institutional  — are relevant to large MPAs in diverse contexts?
  • Who are large MPA stakeholders? What are their uses, values, and interests in these ocean spaces?

2) Emergence and spread

  • Why and how have large MPAs emerged as a global conservation model?
  • What is motivating the designation of large MPAs in particular places?

3) Governance

  • What are the lessons learned from diverse approaches to large MPA designation, design, and implementation?

4) Politics

  • Who is supporting and contesting large MPAs and why?
  • How are large MPAs related to political struggles over resources, territory, and power?

5) Outcomes

  • What is the scope of human dimensions outcomes of large MPAs?
  • How are large MPA sites defining success and failure?


Qualitative case studies are appropriate for generating in-depth understanding of complex and understudied issues and processes. We selected case studies in Bermuda, Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile), Palau, Kiribati, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands/Guam to capture variation in stage of development, governance approach, and geopolitical context. Between 2014-2016 we collected data within case study locations and other sites of decision-making (e.g. global meetings like the 2014 World Parks Congress) through semi-structured interviews, document collection, and participant observation.

We are also using Q-method to assess the diversity of perspectives on large MPAs across case study sites. Q-method combines a quantitative ranking of issues with a qualitative explanation thereof, and is increasingly used by researchers interested in environmental values and conflict.

Case Studies






Broader Impacts

A core commitment of this project is to generate and share knowledge, and we are carrying out a diverse communication and outreach strategy to do so. For example, we collaborated with an international team of scholars and conservation practitioners, including Big Ocean and five universities, to co-organize a global think tank around the human dimensions of large marine protected areas in February 2016 in Hawai’i. The meeting brought together 125 participants from 17 countries, including leaders from 10 established large marine protected areas.

We encourage you to contact project leaders with requests for information or consultation.

Funding for this project has been provided by the Oak Foundation, Waitt Foundation, The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, and Lyda Hill.