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MPAs must take into account the needs and cultural specificities of their human populations and of their users, professional or not. This is a matter of both principle and effectiveness. In principle, the ecosystem approach acknowledges humans, in their cultural variety, as an integral component of ecosystems. In practice, MPA management goals must be appropriated by local communities. One way of increasing their involvement lies in recognizing the very real value of their empirical knowledge. Participative science in particular is emerging as an interesting method for gathering, increasing public participation and raising awareness.
Traditional knowledge and values, sacred and religious sites, and ancestral uses have much to contribute to the management and planning process of MPAs.
The ecosystem approach has gained wide recognition for the conservation and management of dynamic coastal and marine environment. Its concept of ecosystem services provides crucial guidance for decision-making. Marine ecosystems and MPAs themselves can be valued through cost-benefit studies, among other methods which will be defined and assessed. Their assigned value must then be communicated to stakeholders, and compensation mechanisms defined.
The social sciences play a growing role in the study, shaping and organization of MPAs. Geography helps to take a step back and consider issues at scales consistent with MPA design and management.
Seascapes are an emerging subject and offer interesting perspectives. Sociology and anthropology interact with the very definition of MPAs, making them more efficient and people-oriented. This area therefore highlights local communities as essential players in the creation and management of MPAs, through consultations and shared government. Their involvement reflects and builds on native populations’ long history of local and regional resource usage, as well as on their customary laws and control systems.