Anne Walton, NOAA - A career in marine conservation

Anne Walton has been a leading figure on marine protected area (MPA) issues, in the US and beyond, since the early 1990’s. She was instrumental in building up and leading NOAA’s International MPA Capacity Building Program, which has benefitted MPA practitioners in over 30 countries. As Anne steps down from the leadership of the programme to move into new areas of marine conservation, we highlight her remarkable contributions to strengthening MPA management around the globe.

Anne Walton

Since the early 1990s, Anne’s main focus in regards to conservation has been on marine protected areas. She originally started working on the NGO side to pressure the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create a national marine sanctuary in the coastal and marine waters of Washington State, in the U.S. Since that time, and for the past nineteen years, Anne has been working for NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program. In the beginning of her career with NOAA, her primary responsibility was to guide and facilitate multi-year stakeholder-based processes to review, evaluate and develop new management plans for the sanctuaries on the west coast of the U.S. In the early days of this process, when little was known about what it really meant to manage for results, basically the job required dismantling the management structure of a site, figuring out what was working and what was no longer effective or relevant, then building a plan that was hopefully something more than a document that sits on a shelf. And for that to happen it also required building the support of stakeholders, other resource management agencies, and partnerships with research and educational institutions.

In 2005, as part of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program, Anne’s efforts were re-focused on starting the International MPA Capacity Building Program (IMPACBP). Once she made the move from focusing only on domestic MPAs to the international arena, she began to realize that many MPA managers and policy makers, including local and indigenous communities and other stakeholders, had insufficient access to new knowledge, information, and guidelines coming out of science, traditional knowledge, and field experience, to effectively manage MPAs. The purpose of this program was to develop a peer-to-peer learning platform to enable resource managers to come together, directly experience and learn from one another and share lessons learned, while setting new standards for the management of MPAs globally.

The program started small, first focusing on a network of 15 MPAs in Vietnam, including neighboring MPAs on the Chinese and Cambodian borders of Vietnam. Today, the program has worked in more than 30 countries, engaging more than 3,000 participants in capacity development activities. In 2014, Anne contributed her expertise to the planning of a national MPA governance event in Indonesia, co-organized by IUCN under the Blue Solutions initiative. Anne says that over the years, her and her colleagues have certainly learned as much or more than they have contributed, applying it to their own national marine sanctuaries at home in the US.


In Anne’s view, one of the largest challenges continues to be whether we are going to achieve the 2020 Aichi target for conserving and effectively managing 10% of global marine and coastal areas. More specifically, as the demands for use of the marine and coastal environment increase and become more complex, are we able to find ways to balance the conservation, socioeconomic and cultural needs and management objectives established by multi-stakeholder interests. And, are natural resource managers going to have the capacity (management, financial, political and stakeholder support) and authority to address these ever increasingly complex demands that cross jurisdictional, legal and sovereign boundaries.


The IMPACBP now has a strong foundation based on its excellent partnerships within the global NGO marine conservation community, with governments and MPA managers in the countries where it works, and its funding partners. At the same time, the program looks forward to anew collaboration with NOAA’s MPA Center. Through this partnership the progam will be focusing on new areas of capacity development for MPAs, both domestically and internationally. Although the core mission will remain focused on peer-to-peer learning, this will be balanced with virtual learning opportunities. The IMPACBP will also continue to strive to stay relevant by addressing new and emerging issues.

Anne’s personal interests, as she moves out of the leadership of the IMPACBP, will be on developing leadership learning opportunities for the next generation of marine conservationists. She will be kicking off this effort with a 12-day pilot Leadership Learning Forum starting the first week of October in the Mediterranean through a partnership with WWF and the MMMPA program under the Marie Curie Training Network funded by the European Commission.

Work area: 
Protected Areas
Protected Areas
North America
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