Environmental Management

, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 630–643 | Cite as

Marine Protected Dramas: The Flaws of the Brazilian National System of Marine Protected Areas

  • Leopoldo C. Gerhardinger
  • Eduardo A. S. Godoy
  • Peter J. S. Jones
  • Gilberto Sales
  • Beatrice P. Ferreira


This article discusses the current problems and issues associated with the implementation of a National System of Marine Protected Areas in Brazil. MPA managers and higher governmental level authorities were interviewed about their perceptions of the implementation of a national MPA strategy and the recent changes in the institutional arrangement of government marine conservation agencies. Interviewees’ narratives were generally pessimistic and the National System was perceived as weak, with few recognizable marine conservation outcomes on the ground. The following major flaws were identified: poor inter-institutional coordination of coastal and ocean governance; institutional crisis faced by the national government marine conservation agency; poor management within individual MPAs; problems with regional networks of marine protected areas; an overly bureaucratic management and administrative system; financial shortages creating structural problems and a disconnect between MPA policy and its delivery. Furthermore, a lack of professional motivation and a pessimistic atmosphere was encountered during many interviews, a malaise which we believe affects how the entire system is able to respond to crises. Our findings highlight the need for a better understanding of the role of ‘leadership’ in the performance of socio-ecological systems (such as MPA networks), more effective official evaluation mechanisms, more localized audits of (and reforms if necessary to) Brazil’s federal biodiversity conservation agency (ICMBio), and the need for political measures to promote state leadership and support. Continuing to focus on the designation of more MPAs whilst not fully addressing these issues will achieve little beyond fulfilling, on paper, Brazil’s international marine biodiversity commitments.


Coastal management Marine conservation Marine reserves Convention on biological diversity Marine spatial management Ocean governance 



This is a contribution from the the Meros do Brasil network ( We sincerely acknowledge the staff of the Ministry of Environment (MMA), Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade (ICMBio) and IBAMA for providing their time and dedication to our interviews and logistics. We thank the key financial support of Programa Petrobras Ambiental and Center for Marine Conservation (Duke University) to our work, and a scholarship provided by Shell Chevening Centenary Scholarship to Leopoldo Cavaleri Gerhardinger for his master degree at University College London.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leopoldo C. Gerhardinger
    • 1
    • 2
  • Eduardo A. S. Godoy
    • 3
  • Peter J. S. Jones
    • 4
  • Gilberto Sales
    • 5
  • Beatrice P. Ferreira
    • 6
  1. 1.Associação de Estudos Costeiros e Marinhos—ECOMAR NGOCaravelasBrazil
  2. 2.CTTMar, Laboratório de Educação AmbientalUniversidade do Vale do ItajaíItajaíBrazil
  3. 3.Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade, SCENBrasíliaBrazil
  4. 4.Department of GeographyUniversity College London (UCL)LondonUK
  5. 5.Instituto Chico Mendes de Conservação da Biodiversidade, Centro TamarArembepe, CamaçariBrazil
  6. 6.Centro de Tecnologia, Departamento de OceanografiaUniversidade Federal de PernambucoRecifeBrazil

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