Postgraduate Profiles

Maria Jose Gonzalez Bernat

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Thesis: Marine Governance and Conservation Policy in Guatemala

Guatemala is one of the seven countries in the Central American isthmus, located in the Mesoamerican Hotspot of Biodiversity, and recognized as a megadiverse country by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 2010. Marine and coastal resources are extremely diverse and fundamental to the country’s economy and for the sustainability of local communities through income derived from fisheries, agriculture and tourism. However, marine conservation efforts are complex and highly fragmented, with a lack of integration in all dimensions. Through the use of mixed quantitative and qualitative research techniques including literature review, interviews, questionnaire-based surveys and case studies, this research project aims to explore in detail Guatemala’s governance of marine protected areas and analyse conservation and management policies within a complex legal, institutional and financial framework. Prospects for improved conservation planning and management, such as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) Project will also be considered. This research project is the first one of its kind and will propose alternatives for an improved governance system that will enrich the protection of marine and coastal ecosystems in Guatemala.

Why my research is important

National environmentalist have stated that "Guatemala has lived with its back to the sea”, thus contributing to serious ecosystem degradation. Conservation strategies have been established under the recommended precautionary approach to resource extraction, without the proper planning, management and monitoring elements. The establishment of MPAs has been the tool to manage environmental problems, however, most of the marine and coastal ecosystems are still underrepresented in the National System of Protected Areas -SIGAP, and with research lacking continuity, scientific insights on the effectiveness of MPA is non-existent.

Over the past few years, the term governance has grown in importance but research into power relations and responsibilities exercised by local stakeholders on marine conservation and management has been limited, especially in developing countries such as Guatemala. To date, studies have shown that research, stakeholder participation, financing and monitoring and evaluation are essential elements for a proper management process. With only two publications dated almost 15 years ago on institutional and environmental frameworks, analysis of current governance arrangements and conservation efforts are therefore necessary in order to assess possibilities and constrains for an improved management framework of the Guatemalan coast.


Punta de Manabique, Atlantic Coast, Guatemala

Feb 2014