My work draws on the fields of marine biology, ocean and coastal management, and marine governance to understand how different environmental management approaches impact MPA effectiveness. The outcome of my PhD work hopes to give MPA managers, policy makers, scientists, and other stakeholders evidence on which to base more effective management of MPAs.
A wide array of methods is currently applied to adequately manage and protect marine resources, such as establishing marine protected areas (MPAs). 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. Ecosystem management and good governance are necessary for MPA success. This doctoral project will assess MPA effectiveness in the Irish Sea, which has almost 200 MPA designations across 112 sites. To explore the state of MPAs in the Irish Sea, my research will first identify gaps in management and monitoring in Irish Sea MPAs to determine whether there are any paper parks. I will then assess 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. Finally, I will use indicator species population data to evaluate the state of mudflats, an important yet threatened habitat in European MPAs, at Strangford Lough and the Solway Firth, and understand some of the related impacts of declining mudflat conditions in MPA ecosystems.