Last month I attended a couple of very interesting environmental social science workshops in Canada.

The first was held on lovely Pender Island, in the Southern Gulf Islands archipelago in British Columbia, and was led by Natalie Ban – who was formally a conservation planning postdoc here in Townsville – and attended by a great group of researchers from Canada, the USA, the UK and Australia.

This workshop was focused on understanding how marine protected areas (MPAs) affect human wellbeing. Understanding how conservation and other management measures affect people is crucial for both ethical and instrumental reasons. In terms of the former, while I think everybody in the conservation community would agree that conservation should do ‘no harm’ to people, there are certainly divides in the community as to what extent conservation should have social objectives and how much priority they should have relative to biological objectives. Personally, my research interests are motivated by my personal goal to provide scientific knowledge required to effectively manage marine natural resources to promote human wellbeing. In any case, rather than go down that rabbit warren of a debate, moving on to the second reason why it’s important to understanding how conservation affects people – that is because if people are negatively affected by conservation initiatives, they are unlikely to support or comply with that initiative (see our work on participation in community-based marine conservation) and therefore, the likelihood of achieving positive biological outcomes is reduced. While this may seem fairly obvious, the literature on the social impacts of MPAs lags behind that on the biological impacts of MPAs.

During the first part of the workshop we examined the results of a literature review that Natalie had done on how MPAs affect people. The results of Natalie’s review show that things are changing and studies are increasingly examining a wider variety of potential impacts of MPAs on people (e.g. see our work in regards to poverty alleviation and MPAs in Indonesia), and importantly, many of these are not just mediated by changes in ecosystem services, some impacts are direct such as empowerment or disempowerment in regards to resource use and management decision-making (e.g. see our work related to perceived impacts of community-based conservation in the Philippines). Also, studies are beginning to examine how impacts differ amongst different sectors of society (e.g. see our recent work in regards to MPAs in Indonesia and ecosystem services in the Western Indian Ocean). The second part of the workshop involved thinking about how to design a social impact evaluation for a network of MPAs that will be implemented on the BC coast.

The second workshop was held at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and was led by Jess Blythe. This wonderful workshop focused on transformations to sustainability. There is certainly a look of talk around sustainability transformative actions these days (e.g. in relation to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals ‘to transform our world’, and the International Social Science Council’s ‘Transformations to Sustainability’ program). However, little is known about what motivates transformations or how to support that transformative action. We spent a very interesting couple of days discussing these issues in relation to coastal communities who are facing massive environmental change related to climate change and fisheries depletion, not to mention social change related to inequality etc.

All in all a wonderful productive and interesting trip to Canada!


Relevant research

Lau, J., Hicks, C., Gurney, G., Cinner, J. 2018Disaggregating ecosystem service values and priorities by wealth, age, and educationEcosystem Services 29:91-98.

Diedrich, A., Stoeckl, N., Gurney, G., Maipa, A., Pollnac, R. 2016. Social capital as a key determinant of perceived benefits of community-based marine protected areas. Conservation Biology DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12808.

Gurney, G., Cinner, J., Sartin, J., Ban, N., Pressey, R., Marshall, N., Prabuning, D. 2016. Participation in devolved commons management: Multiscale socioeconomic factors related to individuals’ participation in community-based management of marine protected areas in Indonesia. Environmental Science & Policy 61:212-220.

Gurney, G., Pressey, R., Cinner, J., Pollnac, R., Campbell, S. 2015. Integrated conservation and development: evaluating a community-based marine protected area project for equality of socioeconomic impacts. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370: 20140277. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0277

Gurney, G., Cinner, J., Ban, N., Pressey, R., Pollnac, R., Campbell, S., Tasidjawa, S., Setiawan, F. 2014. Poverty and protected areas: an evaluation of a marine integrated conservation and development project in Indonesia. Global Environmental Change 26:98-107.

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