How IMPAC3 will reflect the evolution of the MPA field: An interview with Dan Laffoley

[As mentioned in the September-October 2013 issue of MPA News]

In the following interview with MPA News, Dan Laffoley of the World Commission on Protected Areas – Marine explains how the global MPA field has changed since the first IMPAC meeting in 2005, and how IMPAC3 (to be held 21-27 October 2013 in Marseille, France) will reflect today’s MPA world. He also provides insights on how four new WCPA – Marine task forces, set to launch at IMPAC3, will align with existing institutions and models of international marine conservation:

MPA News: Will IMPAC3 cover most of the same thematic ground as IMPAC and IMPAC2, or has the MPA field changed in recent years in ways that will make IMPAC3 fundamentally different?

Dan Laffoley: Many things have changed since IMPAC 1 was held in Australia back in 2005. We are clearer than ever before about the state of the ocean and the challenges we face. Of course science keeps moving forward, and the congress exists to disseminate its advances. MPAs have moved offshore into large ocean areas since IMPAC 1. Technology has found new applications in the service of MPA managers, providing them with more affordable and efficient monitoring tools. Automated underwater photography provides a sharper picture of what is going on under the surface. At a fraction of the cost of human observation, it feeds managers with a continuous stream of data that can be analyzed to detect both long- and short-term evolutions. The same applies to underwater microphones, now so sensitive that they can hear not only dolphins, but also shrimp and shells. Information technology has provided new platforms to show billions of people the beauty of the ocean – such as Google’s underwater street view – and has allowed over 1 billion people to become armchair aquanauts, taking virtual ‘dives’ with the ocean in Google Earth.

The most striking progress, however, involves not hardware but the social sciences. We now have a better view of how governance affects conservation objectives. We know, in particular, that it cannot involve scientists and managers alone: it must be shared with users. Whatever the worth of a management plan, its effectiveness will remain limited if it has not been appropriated by users. This knowledge sets IMPAC3 fundamentally apart from previous editions: it targets a wider and more diverse audience, including local communities and industry players.

MPA News: WCPA - Marine will debut a few new task forces at IMPAC3. What is each task force focusing on, and what concrete outputs would you like to see the task forces produce (either at IMPAC3 or over time)?

Laffoley: Many readers of MPA News will be familiar with the work of the High seas Task Force of WCPA – Marine, ably and very successfully led by Kristina Gjerde. IMPAC3 represents the start of a new era in our work where we will launch several new Task Forces to complement the High Seas work, to provide more engagement points for WCPA and IUCN Members, and to best align our capacity in our community behind the CBD programme of work, the Aichi targets and in support of other regional and national MPA initiatives. At present we are working on implementing 4 new Task Forces. This four-fold increase represents a very significant scale-up in our activities and reflects the increase in pace we need.

Our new Task Force on Marine Mammal Protected Areas, run jointly with the Species Survival Commission will provide a better focus for our work on these charismatic species and MPAs – species that often a key resonance point with the public and thereby an key entry point in understanding what is needed to care for them and the ocean they inhabit. The focus at IMPAC 3 will be to produce the following:

•  A Full-day Workshop on the Selection of Criteria for the Identification of Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs). Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013. Modeled on BirdLife International’s Important Bird Areas (IBAs) concept, IMMA criteria will be developed that are science-based but also made to fit and be integrated within existing models (e.g., EBSA, KBA, CMS) to bring new knowledge on these species forward for conservation action. The concept and overall goals for IMMAs will be discussed at IMPAC3.

As a working draft definition, IMMAs are identified as discrete portions of habitat, important to marine mammal species, which have the potential to be delineated and managed for conservation. They are not MPAs in themselves. Instead, they represent a pre-selection for consideration by governments, conservation groups, and the general public of areas that deserve consideration for space-based protection. By linking IMMAs as much as possible to the larger world of CBD, CMS and national government initiatives, it may be possible to accelerate the process of habitat protection for marine mammal species and the ecosystems that support them. IMMAs can help supply the basis for future MPAs, MPA networks, marine spatial planning and support marine biodiversity conservation in general through marine mammal flagship and umbrella properties.

A detailed working paper will be provided for the workshop at IMPAC3 which will include various specialists familiar with the four main marine mammal groups, as well as those working in the IUCN KBA and CBD EBSA arenas, and who have worked on devising the original criteria descriptions for these approaches.

•  A Side Event with Official Presentation of the Joint IUCN WCPA/SSC Marine Mammal Protected Area Task Force (MMPATF). Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 (time to be determined). What is the MMPATF? What is its mission, as it has grown out of the International Committee on Marine Mammal Protected Areas? What are its objectives, activities, and expected products? How does it work? The side event will be brief (<1h), introduced by Dan Laffoley, and the co-chairs Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara and Erich Hoyt will cooperate in a joint presentation. There will be contributions from other ICMMPA and MMPATF members. We will also announce some preliminary results from the Workshop on the Selection of Criteria for the Identification of Important Marine Mammal Areas (IMMAs).

The second Task Force we will be showcasing is focused on community-based and local marine area management (CB-LMAM for now!). These approaches by communities, local government, NGOs and entrepreneurs are increasingly recognised as a highly efficient measure for protection and management of coastal resources. They form a critical element of global work on MPAs and we need to increase appreciation and visibility on their roles, their results and good practices. Case studies show that they can be cost-effective, adaptable, resilient with an equitable distribution of benefits to stakeholders depending on those resources. Although there is a variety of regional networks in place – mainly in Asia, Pacific and the Western Indian Ocean, there is presently no international entity in place which brings together the local initiatives in a centralized manner that can enhance dissemination of information to inform global and regional policy processes and maximise sharing and learning across continents. WCPA – Marine with IUCN’s Global Protected Areas Program seeks to fill this gap through the creation of a task force and has engaged the Coral Triangle Center to help develop this task force with other partners. 

IMPAC3 forms a unique platform to present and connect these local initiatives and maximize sharing and learning. It is the only international conference that is focused on MPAs which allows in-depth discussions among all stakeholders, policy and decision makers, experts and practitioners. At the Governance & Partnership session (Oct 24), workshop 11A, IUCN/CTC will present the scope of the new task force with the objective to facilitate input from the participants as much as possible on the focus and outputs of the CB-LMAM workforce which include but are not limited to a best practices guide and targeted training programs on demand. The work force will continue its consultation process at the Asian Parks Congress in Sendai, Japan in November 2013 and launch the task group with specific outputs at the World Parks Congress in Sydney in 2014. 

The third task force to feature at IMPAC3 will focus on very large MPAs. During the 2012 World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea, members from Big Ocean and WCPA-Marine met to discuss opportunities to work together and support one another.  This has led to a partnership to form the Big Ocean/WCPA – Marine Task Force on very large MPAs.  The collective aim here is to pool resources and better align capacity in order to improve the effectiveness of large-scale marine protection efforts, to serve as a peer learning resource and support system, and to build the professional standards of practice for this emerging genre of marine conservation. Through the development of good practices guidance, outcomes and lessons learned will be shared in order to increase understanding of the unique contributions of large-scale marine protection and how management of the ocean at such scales is changing the game of ocean governance. The focus of activities at IMPAC3 will be seeking peer review and comment from participants on a consultative draft of the Guidelines for Design and Management of Large-Scale MPAs, which is being produced by the task force, the publication of which it is intended to become part of IUCN’s high-level Protected Planet Series. The task force will also utilize two workshop sessions within the IMPAC3 program to grow membership in the Task Force, to identify interested parties, and to open a dialogue about participation.

The fourth and final task force is on outreach and communication good practices around MPAs. It is intended to be another cross-Commission task force, this time with the Commission on Education and Communication (CEC). Discussions are still in progress so watch out for more details on this new exciting initiative in 2014 in the lead up to the Sydney 2014 World Parks Congress.

MPA News: Ultimately, what impact(s) would you like to see IMPAC3 have for MPAs at the site level, including for practitioners who aren't able to attend the conference?

Laffoley: One difference between IMPAC2 and IMPAC3 that was touched upon in question #1 is the target audience. This time round, MPA managers are part of the core target – not just scientists.

The Call for Abstracts was formatted to attract contributions from field players, with the result that abstracts focus on practical experiences – “lessons learned” – as much as on research results. And a great proportion of attendees will be seasoned MPA managers, in quest of new ideas and tools directly applicable to their own processes. The conference process has been designed to increase dialogue between experts, and expect intense exchanges on hands-on topics of immediate relevance to the running of MPAs, such as enforcement and ecosystem inventories.

Of course not everyone will be able to attend. For those who cannot make it to Marseille, there’s the possibility of following the congress live through and the soon-to-be-launched Ocean+ WebTV. Additionally, professional networks from every regional sea – MedPan, RAMPAO and their ilk – will be heavily represented, so we expect them to act as a transmission belt between experts in attendance and individual MPAs.

For more information:

Dan Laffoley, WCPA – Marine. Email:

MPA News

Editor-in-Chief: John B. Davis
OpenChannels Manager: Nick Wehner
Spanish translation: Ricardo Gonzalez, Ph.D.

Editorial Board:

Chair: David Fluharty, Ph.D.
School of Marine and Environmental Affairs
University of Washington

Patrick Christie, Ph.D.
School of Marine and Environmental Affairs
University of Washington

Michael Murray
Advisory Council Coordinator
Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Direct correspondence to: MPA News, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington, 3707 Brooklyn Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98105, USA. Tel: +1 425 788 8185; Fax: +1 206 543 1417; E-mail:

MPA News is published bimonthly by Marine Affairs Research and Education (MARE), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation, in association with the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, University of Washington.

Financial support for MPA News is provided in part by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

All content has been written by the MPA News editorial staff unless otherwise attributed.  The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and should not be interpreted as representing the opinions or policies of the Packard Foundation or other funders of MPA News.

Subscriptions to MPA News are free.  To subscribe, send an e-mail message to  Type "subscribe" on the subject line, and include your name, mailing address, and daytime phone number in the text of the message.  Also, please note whether you would like your subscription to be delivered by email or in paper form.