The Red-footed and Brown Boobies on the sea wall at Tern Island, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. A new management model has sougth to better protect the rich array of species and populations on the various islands. Photo: angrysunbird/C.C. 2.0

Surprising liasions

Hawai'i implements innovative new model for managing their marine protected areas.

Centre researchers have previously shown how management of natural resources in general seldom addresses cultural aspects in their quest to improve the management of smaller social-ecological systems. Clearly defined property rights, regulated by law or customary, may contribute to successful management, but unless these rights don't take into account normative and cultural aspects, they are prone to fail.

Similarly, getting agencies with differing mandates and cultures to work together on ecosystem-based management is not all straight forward.

In a recently published article in the Journal of Marine Biology and part of a special issue on ecosystem management in the Pacific Islands, centre researcher Per Olsson has together with researchers from Hawai'i studied the surprise establishment of the Papah¯anaumoku¯akea National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI).

The governance arrangement for the monument represents a new model in US Marine Protected Area management, requiring several institutions, including federal agencies and the State of Hawai‘i, to collaboratively manage the NWHI.

Co-trust rather than hierarchy
The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are a chain of islands, atolls, and shoals spanning approximately 2,000 kilometers to the northwest of the inhabited Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI), which together comprise the Hawaiian Archipelago in the central Pacific Ocean.

Biologically, the various islands, atolls and coral reef habitats in the region support a rich array of species and populations, including a high proportion of coral reef species endemic to the Hawaiian Archipelago.

In 2006, NWHI was established as a National Monument under the American Antiquities Act of 1906. The proclamation establishing the monument was a major surprise to natural resource managers and stakeholders. It required federal agencies to consult with each other in managing the NWHI and to manage the monument collaboratively as “co-trustees" rather than abiding to the traditionally fragmented, hierarchical system where a lead agency is the primary institution that carves out strategies and policies.

“This new management approach required state and federal co-trustee to break new ground in institutional collaboration and ostensibly gave equal management authority to each of the co-trustee agencies", says lead author John N. Kittinger from University of Hawai‘i at M¯anoa.

The establishment of the monument pushed the involved agencies onto unchartered territory and left them with a conundrum of legal issues and differing strategies that had to be synced.

“It required a major management transition", says co-author Per Olsson.

Informal stumbling blocks
The study included in-depth interviews with more than 20 natural resource managers representing all of the agencies involved in the planning and management of the new monument.

Olsson and his colleagues found that there was considerable agreement among the respondents as to the successes and failures of the monument designation process.

The completion of the joint monument management plan and inscribing the area as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010 was considered to be the most successful outcomes of the process.

On the flipside, the researchers' analysis of the whole management transition revealed that informal barriers were often a stumbling block.

Respondents indicated that clashes between institutional cultures and management styles as the primary barrier to successful multiple-agency management. When pressed further about persistent conflicts, respondents commonly commented on strained interpersonal relations and disruptive behaviour and cited that managers' personalities, leadership and management style could affect the collaboration and the perception of success or failure.

How to improve things
Olsson and his colleagues are clear in their recommendation to those considering a similar management approach:

“Our results suggest that adaptive management can be achieved through institutional co-trusteeship but planning processes for similar multi-agency governance arrangements must seriously consider the formal and informal barriers that may exist between partner agencies prior to crafting governance arrangements", they say.

Formal barriers could be clearly identified via in-depth consultations with partner agencies beforehand and mechanisms could be explored to minimize potential sources of conflict.

Informal barriers may be surmounted through the establishment of common languages and goals, consciously enabling institutional learning processes and facilitate interactions that build trust.

See video interview with centre researcher Thomas Elmqvist explaining what ecosystem-based management is:

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Source: Kittinger, J. N., A. Dowling, A. R. Purves, N. A. Milne, and P. Olsson. 2010. Marine protected areas, multiple-agency management, and monumental surprise in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Journal of Marine Biology (Special Issue: Ecosystem-Based Management of the Pacific Islands) 2011:1-17.  doi:10.1155/2011/241374.


Kittinger, J. N., A. Dowling, A. R. Purves, N. A. Milne, and P. Olsson. 2010. Marine protected areas, multiple-agency management, and monumental surprise in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Journal of Marine Biology (Special Issue: Ecosystem-Based Management of the Pacific Islands) 2011:1-17.  doi:10.1155/2011/241374.

About the centre author:

Per Olsson has worked extensively with system dynamics, adaptive governance and ecosystems management. This includes identifying social factors, knowledge, and organizations for ecosystem management and focuses on dynamic interaction among key individuals, social networks, organizations and institutions.


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