Assessing the social acceptability of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) - a comparison between Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park (PSGLMP) and Batemans Marine Park (BMP) in NSW

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The biological success of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) depends to a large extent on their social acceptability. Considerable efforts are increasingly being expended on public participation processes and socio-economic assessments during MPA planning exercises, yet local opposition remains a largely consistent response to MPA proposals around the world. This resistance has slowed international progress towards a global network of MPAs. Two case studies in New South Wales, Australia were used to examine some of the factors that may influence community attitudes towards MPAs using a multi- disciplinary approach, incorporating media studies, social impact assessment, social research and oral history traditions. The Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park (PSGLMP) and Batemans Marine Park (BMP) were established in December 2005 and April 2006 respectively. Both underwent virtually identical and concurrent planning processes. However resistance to the BMP was more intense and sustained and continues to this day. This thesis is unique in that the virtually identical and simultaneous planning processes conducted in the two study areas provides a valuable opportunity to look beyond governance processes and examine a wide array of influences on community responses to these MPAs. Key variables were compared to examine what may have contributed to this differential community response. These were: • demographics and history; • local media coverage and the role of influential media spokespeople; and • the social impacts of the parks. The results found that the BMP demonstrated the ‘perfect storm’ of opposition triggers – a community struggling in the transition away from a primary production economy, a highly politicised media dominated by powerful elites with ideological objections to the park, and social impacts sufficiently profound to motivate local citizens to support an active campaign against the park. Opposition to MPAs, however, cannot be explained by impact alone. All the marine park opponents interviewed represented themselves as ‘knowledge holders’ about their local marine area. This knowledge – predominately ‘fish’ knowledge – appears to have conflicted with a policy position which places biodiversity conservation as the primary objective of MPAs. This has led to a perception that the practical knowledge of users was not valued in the planning of each marine park. This research points to the importance of looking beyond a ‘one size fits all’ approach to MPA planning. Planning efforts require a deeper understanding of the social, cultural and political landscape of the communities in which MPAs are proposed. In particular the study identified three main areas in which the better integration of socio-cultural considerations is critical. They are communication and community engagement, social assessment and public policy.
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