Community-Based MPAs: Case study in Puerto Morelos, Mexico

Rodríguez-Martínez, R. E. “Community involvement in marine protected areas: The case of Puerto Morelos reef, México.” Journal of Environmental Management 88.4 (2008): 1151-60.


Using marine protected areas (MPAs) as a management tool for conservation can be effective, especially when local stakeholders, government agencies and communities take an active role in the planning and decision-making processes. Sadly, few efforts have been made for co-management and community involvement in MPAs of developing countries in the Caribbean. Rosa E. Rodríguez-Martínez (2008) revises the history and development of the community-based MPA in Puerto Morelos reef, which was established in 1998 and is located on the northeastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula. The author also discusses her view on the multiple problems encountered by the MPA and presents alternatives that may provide solutions for better co-management of marine resources and serve as an example for MPAs in other countries.

The management program was initially prepared by local stakeholders and the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, Universidad Nacional Autonóma de México (UNAM). Mostly formal and informal sessions were carried out to discuss and resolve conflict issues concerning the use of Puerto Morelos among the local stakeholders. One of the main concerns from the community when creating the MPA was its unsustainable use; however, some groups focused on prospects for major investments in the area. To better assist the communication among the different groups, an Advisory Council with various representatives from the government and community sectors was established in 2001.

Video: Community involvement in the sustainable use and conservation of Puerto Morelos Reef (March 20, 2008)


Several obstacles brought about by the federal government hindered the ability to efficiently administer and achieve the MPA’s full potential. The sharing of directors with other protected areas, due to lack of funds and personnel, was commonplace and tended to delay the development and implementation of agreements decided by the Council. For several years, the MPA had no federal funding and depended on the financial support of tourist operators and volunteers. Afterward, a user fee was established by federal law to tourists, but delays in its return to Puerto Morelos hampered the adequate implementation of the management program. Insufficient personnel has constantly been a hindrance for the MPA’s success, especially with budget cuts made during 2007. Enforcement of MPA regulations also represents a challenge because of the lack of coordination and cooperation among the governmental, federal, and municipal agencies on the correct measures needed for handling marine and coastal issues. Despite the government’s deficiencies, the Instituto de Ciencias del Mar y Limnología, UNAM devoted their efforts to the scientific research of the Puerto Morelos reefs, which became part of the permanent monitoring of coral reefs conducted by the Caribbean Coastal Marine Productivity Program (CARICOMP). Presently, it is considered part of a coral reef research initiative financed by the Global Environmental Facility through the World Bank.

Community participation is an important component of the MPA management; however, the problems presented by changes in MPA directors, busy agendas, and few attendees due to a loss of interest by the local stakeholders because of neglected agreements negatively affected the community’s enthusiasm to be involved in the management program. On the other hand, public education and awareness of coral reef conservation are well-supported and essential factors of the MPA’s creation and management. Several educational programs have been implemented throughout the years, but the lack of personnel has withheld the commencement of a 5-year program for community participation in the conservation of natural resources. Projects sponsored by the Programa de Desarrollo Sustentable (PRODERS, Sustainable Development Program) have also been successful in promoting sustainable development in communities surrounding the protected area. The existence of the MPA has also helped to develop a conscious effort by the community to enforce environmental regulations and prevent the development of projects that may threaten their lives and Puerto Morelos reefs.

Rodríguez-Martínez emphasizes the importance of the community’s participation for Puerto Morelos’ development as an MPA while lacking fixed federal funds to support the management program. Although, at present, the federal government has jurisdiction over Puerto Morelos, the local stakeholders continue to partake of the decision-making process. The author suggests that collaborative co-management in the administration of Puerto Morelos is essential for supporting the MPA, rather than solely community-based or centralized management. Agreements among different levels of governmental agencies and joint planning of actions are also considered key factors that should be improved to better manage MPAs. Another suggestion is to make management decisions based on scientific and monitoring data, which should be evaluated frequently with the purpose of quickly detecting and resolving problems. Overall, the author highly encourages the active collaboration of both resource users and local communities to effectively manage and sustain the use of MPAs similar to Puerto Morelos.

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CRA’s Comment

UPR-SG considers community involvement an essential component for the effective management and sustainable use of marine resources. Rodríguez-Martínez (2008), based on her personal experience as a participant of the Puerto Morelos management program, strongly suggests the co-management of both government agencies and local stakeholders in order to make better decisions for the MPA. In the case of Puerto Morelos, an advisory council was appointed in order to discuss and resolve conflicts among the local stakeholders. During our visit to a regular meeting of the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council (June 2009), we observed a similar interchange of ideas between non-governmental organizations (NGOs), territory institutions for natural resource management, federal agencies, and commercial fishermen. Bearing this in mind, the CRA project intends to obtain information regarding concerns for research and management of marine resources in the Caribbean from several groups, such as NGOs, governmental agencies, scientists, and local resource users. It is imperative that all parties, whether public or private, contribute to the sustainable use and conservation of our marine resources.

Contributed by J. Seda

Photo: Boats at Puerto Morelos (

National Park – Puerto Morelos Reef (Parque Nacional Arrecife de Puerto Morelos)

Information about Puerto Morelos reef from the CaribbeanMPA database (CaMPAM)

Coral reef targeted research and capacity building for management

Resource for relevant links associated with Caribbean MPAs (CIEL) –

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