Redrawing the boundaries: planning and governance of a marine protected area—the case of the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park
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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) shield ocean environments from hazardous human activities, including the extraction of marine resources and excessive urban development. Delimitation, zoning and governance structures are some of the environmental management tools that are provided by MPAs. These management tools may be contentious when human settlements exist within an MPAs’ boundaries, since zoning affects existing human activities and potential developments, and managing structures overlap traditional governance arrangements. Varying perspectives emerge when each stakeholder is taken into consideration separately. Ideally all stakeholders with genuine interests in MPAs should take part in the delimitation, zoning and governance of these areas. However, governance is about reaching agreements amidst differences and is not just a matter of considering differences as singularities. In order to understand how multiple stakeholders would reach a shared environmental governance of an MPA, we took the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (ECLSP) in The Bahamas as a case study. The ECLSP, created in 1958, is co-managed by the Government of The Bahamas and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), and contains within its boundaries uninhabited islands, islands occupied by local communities, and private islands mainly owned by foreigners or held in Bahamian trusts. In this study, we conducted an exercise with different stakeholders who were challenged to work together in redrawing the park’s boundaries, zoning and governance structures. Their individual opinions mattered less than the discussion and outcomes of their joint work. We conclude that a shared environmental governance structure does not eliminate all the frictions among stakeholders, but rather it makes them all aware of the natural and social complexities involved in managing MPAs, which improves stewardship and enhances the ECLSP’s legitimacy among stakeholders.