The nature and extent of evidence on methodologies for monitoring and evaluating marine spatial management measures in the UK and similar coastal waters: a systematic map


Anthropogenic degradation of marine ecosystems is widely accepted as a major social-ecological problem. The growing urgency to manage marine ecosystems more effectively has led to increasing application of spatial management measures (marine protected areas [MPAs], sectoral [e.g. fishery] closures and marine spatial planning [marine plans]). Understanding the methodologies used to evaluate the effectiveness of these measures against social, economic, and ecological outcomes is key for designing effective monitoring and evaluation programmes.


We used a pre-defined and tested search string focusing on intervention and outcome terms to search for relevant studies across four bibliographic databases, Google Scholar, 39 organisational websites, and one specialist data repository. Searches were conducted in English and restricted to the period 2009 to 2019 to align with current UK marine policy contexts. Relevant studies were restricted to UK-relevant coastal countries, as identified by key stakeholders. Search results were screened for relevance against pre-defined eligibility criteria first at title and abstract level, and then at full text. Articles assessed as not relevant at full text were recorded with reasons for exclusion. Two systematic map databases of meta-data and coded data from relevant primary and secondary studies, respectively, were produced.

Review findings

Over 19,500 search results were identified, resulting in 391 relevant primary articles, 33 secondary articles and 49 tertiary reviews. Relevant primary articles evaluated spatial management measures across a total of 22 social, economic and ecological outcomes; only 2.8% considered all three disciplines, with most focused exclusively on ecological (67.8%) or social (13.3%) evaluations. Secondary articles predominately focused on ecological evaluations (75.8%). The majority of the primary and secondary evidence base aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of MPAs (85.7% and 90.9% respectively), followed by fisheries closures (12.5%; 3.0%) with only 1.8% of primary, and 6.1% of secondary, articles focused on marine plans or on MPAs and fisheries closures combined. Most evaluations reported within primary articles were conducted for a single site (60.4%) or multiple individual sites (32.5%), with few evaluating networks of sites (6.9%). Secondary articles mostly evaluated multiple individual sites (93.9%). Most (70.3%) primary articles conducted principal evaluations, i.e. basic description of effects; 29.4% explored causation; and 0.3% undertook benefit evaluations. Secondary articles predominately explored causation (66.7%) with the remainder conducting principal evaluations. Australia (27.4%), the USA (18.4%) and the UK (11.3%) were most frequently studied by primary articles, with secondary articles reporting mostly global (66.7%) or European (18.2%) syntheses.


The systematic map reveals substantial bodies of evidence relating to methods of evaluating MPAs against ecological outcomes. However, key knowledge gaps include evaluation across social and economic outcomes and of overall merit and/or worth (benefit evaluation), as well as of: marine plans; networks of sites; real-time, temporary or seasonal closures; spatial management within offshore waters, and lagoon or estuary environments. Although the evidence base has grown over the past two decades, information to develop comprehensive evaluation frameworks remains insufficient. Greater understanding on how to evaluate the effectiveness of spatial management measures is required to support improved management of global ocean resources and spaces.


Fishery closures, Fishery exclusion zones, No-take zones, Marine Management, Marine protected areas, Marine reserves, Marine spatial planning, Maritime planning, MPAs, Policy evaluation


Anthropogenic degradation of marine ecosystems is widely accepted as a major social-ecological problem. The growing urgency to better manage marine ecosystems has led to the increasing application of ‘spatial management measures’ including marine protected areas, sectoral (e.g. fishery) closures, and marine spatial planning. However, the designation of varied spatial management regimes is just the first step; achievement of objectives relies upon effective implementation, monitoring, evaluation and adaptation. Despite spatial management being a core component of the marine management portfolio, to our knowledge, there is no systematic overview of the evidence on methodologies available, and employed, to monitor and evaluate their effectiveness across social, economic and ecological outcomes.


This systematic map will examine existing evidence describing methodologies for monitoring the effects, and evaluating the effectiveness, of marine spatial management across ecological, social and economic outcomes. Our aim is to provide a resource for decision-makers, primarily in the UK but also internationally, that supports effective marine management, and to describe the current evidence base. Identification and evaluation of relevant studies will therefore be restricted to coastal countries identified by our Stakeholder Group as being relevant to the UK, and searches will be restricted to the period 2009 to 2019 to align with the current UK policy context. Searches for relevant grey and academic literature, published in English, will be conducted in four bibliographic search engines, Google Scholar, 38 organisational websites and one specialist data repository. Eligibility screening will be conducted first at title and abstract level, and then at full text. Coding and meta-data extraction from eligible studies will include: bibliographic information, general information about the spatial management measure studied, and methodological information on the monitoring and evaluation undertaken. Consistency checking amongst reviewers will be undertaken during screening, coding and data extraction phases. The outcome of the systematic map will be a database that displays the meta-data of identified relevant studies. Findings will be presented in a descriptive report detailing the evaluation approaches and analytical methodologies employed, and data collection methods applied and/or data required by relevant studies to inform evaluations on the effectiveness of marine spatial management measures.