Lessons and Conclusion

One purpose of this project was to uncover challenges that may be encountered during a marine zoning process and to develop solutions and recommendations applicable not only in St. Kitts and Nevis but also in other places. While these challenges and solutions have been discussed throughout this case study, this section highlights a few of the most important.

Lessons Learned

A participatory process is essential but challenging.

For an ocean zoning plan to be achievable—that is, supported by user groups and feasible in the local context—the design process needs to be participatory. This project made a major commitment to engaging local communities and government agencies in the marine zoning process from stakeholder workshops to field data collection. These steps helped to forge important relationships that improved the flow of information among project partners and the project team, built support for the zoning process, and ensured that diverse views were incorporated.

However, cultivating stakeholder involvement in every step of the process demanded considerable time, effort, and financial resources, sometimes drawing resources away from other priorities such as scientific analysis. Similar projects should take care to allocate sufficient resources to build relationships, effectively engage stakeholders, and provide outreach. Finding a balance between ensuring a participatory process and maintaining leadership to reach the project’s goals is challenging and should be considered carefully before and during a marine zoning process.

Affordable solutions are needed for mapping offshore benthic habitats.

Early in this project, all parties recognized that a comprehensive zoning plan for St. Kitts and Nevis would need to cover the entire exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The project team had the technical expertise and financial resources to map nearshore benthic habitats. Mapping offshore habitats is more expensive and was not feasible due to budget constraints. The lack of data on offshore habitats will impair future efforts to develop a marine zoning plan for the EEZ of St. Kitts and Nevis. Marine spatial planning processes in other geographic areas also must grapple with the difficulty and expense of mapping offshore benthic habitats. If affordable approaches and tools to map deeper habitats and offshore waters become available, they would facilitate this aspect of marine planning.

Coastal development is an important influence on the marine ecosystem. It was outside the scope of this project but should be considered as part of the marine zoning process. Photo © Steven R. Schill/TNC

Coastal development is an important influence on the marine ecosystem. It was outside the scope of this project but should be considered as part of the marine zoning process. Photo © Steven R. Schill/TNC

Incorporating land-based influences will require new approaches.

In this project, the inshore boundary of the study area was defined as the farthest extent of seawater influence. The marine zoning process did consider some land-based activities that affect coastal waters, such as sand mining, but important influences such as watershed inputs and coastal development were not included. These land-based influences were beyond the scope of the project, but the project team recognized that such influences need to be addressed at some point to improve the effectiveness of any eventual zoning plan. New approaches are needed for considering land-based human impacts and activities in a marine zoning process—without necessarily conducting a fully integrated land-sea zoning process.

Existing tools are inadequate for representing the future vision.

This project dedicated considerable effort to helping citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis to define a shared vision for the future, but the project team struggled with spatially representing that shared vision and explicitly incorporating the vision into quantitative and analytical tools. The decision support products were successful at representing current conditions, but they were not effective at depicting projected uses of the ocean into the future.

There seems to be a disconnect in many zoning efforts between the desire to represent human uses and impacts into the future (including climate change impacts) and the ability to map projected distributions of system characteristics (both ecological as well as human uses) into the future. Practical examples are needed of approaches that link the current state and future vision for a marine area. While ocean zoning is a promising framework for identifying and working toward a shared future vision, the lack of existing data and tools makes it difficult to do so.

Ecological and socioeconomic data can be effectively integrated.

Ecological and socioeconomic information need to be integrated to effectively represent the variety of uses occurring in the ocean and the habitats supporting them. Prioritizing and collecting such a wide variety of data and incorporating this information can present a major challenge. This project filled important data gaps, prioritizing both ecological and socioeconomic information and conducting rapid assessment surveys to build the information base for zoning. It was essential to make balanced decisions regarding investments in data acquisition, to acknowledge the mismatch in scales between types of data, and to make transparent choices about which data were used.

Conservation planning software presents opportunities and challenges.

This project used Marxan with Zones software as a conservation-planning tool to organize and analyze a wide range of information. The role of this tool was to provide decision support, not to make decisions. The project team consistently communicated to participants that people—not the software—would make the decisions regarding zoning. In addition to ecological data, Marxan with Zones requires a considerable amount of data on ecosystem services and people’s desires regarding ocean uses. Because model outputs are only as good as the data used to build them, these important data requirements needed to be considered when planning, budgeting, and carrying out the project.

Like any modeling tool, Marxan with Zones might be seen as a “black box” with choices and assumptions unclear to stakeholders, leading to lack of acceptance of the tool’s outputs. The project team sought to use Marxan with Zones in the most transparent manner by involving stakeholders in defining key assumptions and parameters. However, facilitating this understanding and input proved challenging because of the software’s complexity. Consequently, a careful balance between leadership and stakeholder participation needed to be struck for this process to be productive.


This project laid a solid foundation for multi-objective marine management and sustainable use of marine resources. The project set the process of marine spatial planning into motion by generating information, tools, knowledge and relationships that are needed for effective management. It fostered open debate among sectors that helped to identify conflicts and means of coexistence between sectors. Lessons learned from this project and the tools and approaches that were developed are transferable to other geographic areas. The next several years will reveal the extent to which the project was successful in stimulating marine zoning and related advances in marine management in St. Kitts and Nevis.

For More Information

See the full Report: Agostini, V. N., S. W. Margles, S. R. Schill, J. E. Knowles, and R. J. Blyther. 2010. Marine Zoning in Saint Kitts and Nevis: A Path Towards Sustainable Management of Marine Resources. The Nature Conservancy.

Workshop participants. Photo © Shawn W. Margles/TNC

Workshop participants. Photo © Shawn W. Margles/TNC


Vera N. Agostini, PhD
Senior Scientist
Global Marine Initiative
The Nature Conservancy
255 Alhambra Circle, Suite 312
Coral Gables, FL 33134 USA
Telephone: 305-445-8352
Email: vagostini@tnc.org

Ruth Blyther
Director, Eastern Caribbean
Caribbean Program
The Nature Conservancy
3052 Estate Little Princess, Christiansted, 00820
St. Croix, USVI
Telephone: 340-718-5575
Email: rblyther@tnc.org