Human Dimensions of Large Marine Protected Areas

The Palau National Marine Sanctuary (est. 2015) covers approximately 193,000 square miles -- 80% of Palau's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ; 3 to up to 200 miles offshore). The remaining 20% of the EEZ is a Domestic Fishing Zone, which allows some forms of commercial fishing. Palau's territorial waters (0 to 3 miles), home to many coral reefs, are governed by other state and national laws and management programs. Map: L. Fairbanks; Sources:,, Esri. (Click to enlarge)

This project is being undertaken with collaborators at Colorado State University, Duke University, and the University of Guelph. We are broadly interested in the human dimensions of large marine protected areas (LMPAs): an emerging trend in oceans conservation. The social, cultural, political, and economic impacts of LMPAs are understudied and often overlooked, given the remote offshore spaces these protected areas generally encompass. However, rather than "unpeopled" offshore spaces, we are showing that human uses, values, institutions, and other sociopolitical dimensions are critical components of LMPAs, their development, and their success.

Conceptual framework for parsing the social outcomes of LMPAs, highlighting examples illustrated by our case studies (informed by Vanclay 2002). Source: Gruby et al. 2017. (Click to enlarge)

The project examines five case studies of existing, emerging, or stalled LMPA initiatives: a stalled attempt to designate an LMPA in Bermuda (Bermuda Blue Halo Initiative); an LMPA proposal in Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile); a recently declared LMPA in Palau (Palau National Marine Sanctuary); an LMPAs in Kiribati (the Phoenix Islands Protected Area); and an LMPA in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands and Guam (the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument).

My work has focused on the case of Palau as well as our cross-case analyses.

Publications on LMPAs

Gruby, RL, Fairbanks, L, Acton, L, Artis, E, Campbell, LM, Gray, NJ, Mitchell, L, Zigler, SBJ, Wilson, K. 2017. Conceptualizing social outcomes of large marine protected areas. Coastal Management. 45 (6): 416-435.  [Open Access Link]

Other Resources

See our article in The Conversation summarizing and discussing some of our work. For more information, including video interviews with some of our informants, visit our project website! (exit to