Methods of social assessment in Marine Protected Area planning: Is public participation enough?

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Journal Article
Marine Policy, 2012, 36 pp. 432 - 439
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Addressing social and economic considerations is crucial to the success of Marine Protected Area (MPA) planning and management. Ineffective social assessment can alienate local communities and under- mine the success of existing and future MPAs. It is rare to critique the success of methods used currently to incorporate social and economic considerations into MPA planning. Three Australian MPA planning processes covering three states and incorporating federal and state jurisdictions are reviewed in order to determine how potential social impacts were assessed and considered. These case studies indicate that Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is under-developed in Australian MPA planning. Assessments rely heavily on public participation and economic modelling as surrogates for dedicated SIA and are followed commonly by attitudinal surveys to gauge public opinion on the MPA after its establishment. The emergence of issues around public perception of the value of MPAs indicates the failure of some of these proposals to adequately consider social factors in planning and management. This perception may have potential implications for the long term success of individual MPAs. It may also compromise Australia's ability to meet international commitments for MPA targets to gazette at least 10% of all its marine habitats as MPAs. Indeed, this is demonstrated in two of the three case studies where social and economic arguments against MPAs have been used to delay or block the future expansion of the MPA network.
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