The Transatlantic MPA Partnership: fostering twinning relationships across the Atlantic Ocean

This article is reproduced, with kind permission, from MPA news Vol. 19, No. 4, February 2018 (editor: John Davis).

To promote cooperation among managers of MPAs in countries and territories surrounding the Atlantic Ocean, the
European Union set up the Transatlantic MPA Partnership in 2016. Centered on a new concept of Atlanticism that
includes Africa and South America as well as Europe and North America, the Partnership is designed in particular to
foster twinning arrangements between individual sites, and between regional MPA networks. The Partnership will complete its initial two-year operation in March 2018 and awaits official word now on EU funding for a follow-on project.

The Partnership has focused so far on three types of twinning arrangements: networks twinning to improve cooperation between networks of MPA managers; resilience twinning to boost resilience to coastal changes; and marine mammals protection twinning to promote collaboration among marine mammal MPAs in the Atlantic.
Puri Canals is Team Leader for the Transatlantic MPA Partnership. She is also President of MedPAN, the network
of Mediterranean MPA managers.

MPA News: The Transatlantic MPA Partnership has been active for a relatively short time. Can you point to some of the challenges you’ve faced so far?

Puri Canals: There have been a few challenges in running the Partnership. These have included:

  • The short timescale for setting up three twinning partnerships across the Atlantic – from defining each
    twinning theme, to holding two workshops per twinning, to enabling concrete results – all in two years.
  • Uncertainty over what happens next after the current two-year project is done – in other words, the project’s
    future direction, development, and funding.
  • The lack of adequate data available on the Atlantic MPA system and the ocean itself. The project compiled a
    scoping study with a base map to address this shortfall, which provides an overview of the Atlantic space for
    marine and coastal protected areas. This is somewhat constrained by the data available (some of it conflicting)
    and a limited response to an e-mail survey sent to national and MPA authorities during 2016.
  • Inevitably – but not surprisingly – the distances involved in transatlantic cooperation were always going to be
    a major obstacle, as were the different linguistic and organizational backgrounds, levels of MPA managers’
    knowledge, capacity, and funding.

Have you seen successes yet?

Canals: Strong relationships have already developed over a short time between managers from very different regions and socio-economic contexts. They have discovered how much they have in common and can learn from each other. There are already several tangible and impactful results, with more projects in the pipeline:

  • Cape Verde has begun drafting a marine mammal conservation plan, working with other Portuguese-speaking
    partners (Azores and Brazil).
  • Bermuda is also drawing on the experience of other partners for the preparation of its whale management plan.
  • Iceland is planning the designation of MPAs following its hosting of a workshop on marine mammal twinning in October 2017.
  • Cape Verde and Saint Martin (the latter in the French Antilles, Caribbean) intend to work together on a school
    twinning project, on the model of a whale conservation project run by the Agoa Sanctuary in Saint Martin with
    local schools.
  • Following the severe impacts of Hurricane Irma in 2017 on Saint Martin, which is a partner in the marine mammal twinning via its Agoa Sanctuary, there is interest in bringing that island into the resilience twinning as well and hosting a future event there.
  • There is interest in further cooperation between Brazil and Gabon to develop a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary
  • The resilience twinning partners of Gabon and the US state of New Jersey are preparing to work together to develop strategies for inshore waters.
  • RAPAC – the Central Africa protected areas network, which has been largely terrestrial up to now – is drawing on the experience of regional networks in the Partnership to develop its own MPA network.
  • And perhaps most significantly, there has been a boost to advocacy efforts by speaking with one voice. This has included a joint presentation at the 2017 UN Ocean Conference, including a statement in the closing plenary, and the Call for Joint Action among regional MPA networks that was launched at the International MPA Congress last year in Chile.

What lessons have been learned?

Canals: At the final conference for the two-year project this past January, there were several thoughtful remarks
by participants. One was from Ben Haskell, who manages Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in the northeastern US, a partner in the marine mammals twinning [described below in case D]. Whether this is technically a lesson or not, he had an important message: “As an MPA manager,” he said, “it’s nice to know I’m not alone out there in the world, that there are commonalities across the Atlantic and that we’re all working together. It’s also nice to see other people developing solutions we didn’t think of. This is a valuable aspect of this partnership.”

For more information:
Puri Canals. Email:

MPA News website:


New report: Assessing Europe’s Marine Protected Area networks – Proposed methodologies and scenarios

By drawing on existing approaches put forward by the Regional Sea Conventions of relevance to European seas, this report presents a proposed methodological framework for the assessment of MPA networks in a European context to help inform the role that MPAs (and MPA networks) play in the delivery of EU-level reporting requirements.

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Project featured in latest Natura 2000 newsletter

A short article about this project’s launch workshop appears in the latest edition of the European Commission’s Natura 2000 newsletter.



Recommendations from 2nd International Conference on Marine/Maritime Spatial Planning

In March, UNESCO and the European Commission hosted an international conference on marine spatial planning, a process that seeks to regulate human activities in the waters bordering coastal areas so as to preserve marine ecosystems, avoid conflicts between sectors of commercial and industrial activity, and promote international cooperation. The conference concluded with the adoption of a joint roadmap to accelerate Maritime/Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) processes worldwide, which identifies priority areas for EU action.

For more information, see the event website, view presentations.



© Jürgen Freund / WWF

WWF publishes assessment of Portuguese MPAs

A new report published by WWF, “MPA X-ray – a diagnosis of Portuguese MPAs”, looks at the type of protection, distribution and area of marine protected areas in Portugal as well as their governance model. It focuses on national, regional and local MPAs (only nationally designated) and clarifies relevant and urgent questions about the MPAs. It also encourages the Portuguese Government and the institutions responsible for the implementation of more efficient MPAs to ensure the ocean’s sustainability. The report has been supported by the Oceano Azul Foundation and the Oceanário de Lisboa. The full report in Portuguese is accessible via this webpage; while an executive summary in English is available here.

Science of MPAs report; focus on Mediterranean

A report about the science of marine protected areas with a focus on the Mediterranean has been published by the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO, USA) and the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis (UNS, France). The science shows that fully protected, well-designed, well-managed, and well-enforced MPAs can support the economy and culture of the Mediterranean region and protect important marine resources.

View the report

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Report on how MPAs can combat climate change

A report published in November looks at how marine protected areas can help combat climate change. The IUCN report, Marine Protected Areas and climate change: Adaptation and mitigation synergies, opportunities and challenges aims to demonstrate the link between MPAs and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Read more


Nordic countries publish analysis of ecosystem services of coastal wetlands

A new report published by the Nordic Council of Ministers provides an overview of the values related to important ecosystems along Nordic coasts. Four key systems – kelp forests, eelgrass meadows, blue mussel beds, and shallow bays and inlets – were selected to be examined for their services. Work on compiling the report was led by the  Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA) in collaboration with the Institute of Marine Research (IMR), GRID-Arendal, NIVA Denmark Water Research, and the Swedish AquaBiota Water Research.

Read more


New website about MPAs in Portugal

A new website has been published – MPAs Portugal – to raise awareness and provide information about the status of marine protected areas in Portugal and the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores. The project is run by a team working at MARE – Marine and Environmental Sciences Centre – at ISPA, the Instituto Universitário in Lisbon, Portugal.



Children playing in the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon World Heritage site, Palau. Brian Sullivan

UNESCO marks 10 years of the World Heritage Marine Programme

To mark 10 years since the creation of its World Heritage Marine Programme, UNESCO published a report in December presenting the achievements of the past decade and setting out the future priorities of the World Heritage Convention for Marine Conservation. Among its plans are steps to facilitate the protection of five sites in the High Seas that were identified in 2016 to have potential Outstanding Universal Value. The five sites include two in the Atlantic: the Sargasso Sea, “home to an iconic ecosystem built around a concentration of floating algae”, and the Lost City Hydrothermal Field, “an 800 metre-deep area dominated by carbonate monoliths up to 60 meters high”.

Go to UNESCO article with link to report.