The Conservation Planning Group Applied conservation research

People and protected areas

Critical to the success of conservation initiatives, including protected areas, is an understanding of associated human systems. Conservation is intrinsically a socioeconomic phenomena; that is, it is a product of human decision-making; its ultimate purpose is to modify human activities, and its success is contingent on human behaviour. Key areas of research in this theme are understanding opportunities for conservation, identifying how socioeconomic factors can be integrated into protected area design, and assessing the socioeconomic impacts of conservation.

Participation in devolved resource governance: socioeconomic factors related to participation in community-based management of marine protected areas in Indonesia

Research led by Dr Georgina Gurney


Management of natural resources is commonly implemented under institutional models promoting devolved decision-making, such as co-management and community-based conservation. Although participation of local people is critical to the success of devolved management of natural resources, few studies have empirically investigated how participation is related to socioeconomic factors that operate at multiple scales. In this project, we evaluated how individual- and community-scale factors were related to participation in management of community-based marine protected areas in Indonesia. In this project we drew on multiple bodies of literature on human behavior from economics and social science, including the theory of planned behavior, the social-ecological systems framework from common-pool resource theory, and experimental economic games from behavioral economics. We found three key factors related to participation: subjective norms, structural elements of social capital, and nested institutions. There was also suggestive evidence that participation was related to people’s cooperative behavioral disposition, which we elicited using a public goods game. Our findings highlight the importance of considering multiple-scale mechanisms other than regulations and material incentives, which are typically employed in devolved management to encourage participation. Increased understanding of the factors related to participation could facilitate better targeting of investments aimed at encouraging cooperative management.

Avoiding and reversing ‘paper parks’: integrating fishers’ compliance into conservation efforts

Research led by Adrian Arias

IMG_1218This project looks into compliance as related to natural resource use. Natural resource management is inherently about influencing peoples’ behaviour towards nature; therefore adequate user compliance is critical for conservation and sustainability. Adrian focuses on fishers’ compliance with marine protected areas (MPAs); however, his work is applicable to a broad range of activities in both marine and terrestrial environments. To understand compliance Adrian is drawing on knowledge from diverse fields such as psychology and political science, and complementing it with empirical data from case studies in his native Costa Rica. This work will not only contribute to science, it will considerably enhance the social and environmental effectiveness of MPAs.

Revisiting opportunity costs for coral reef conservation planning

Research led by Dr Mélanie Hamel

Planning to maintain marine biodiversity must account for the dependence of people on marine resources, or conservation management will likely have negative socioeconomic impacts and poor compliance. When placing marine reserves, it is often assumed that minimizing lost fishing opportunities, measured with different surrogates such as proximity from shore or catch data involving yield or effort, will reduce impacts on coastal communities. But do proximity, yield, or effort at locations reflect their value to people for fishing and vice versa? If minimizing lost fishing opportunities measured with the perceived value of fishing grounds to people, to what extent do we also minimize other potential social and economic impacts of conservation management? How to incorporate all this information in systematic conservation planning? To answer these questions, I worked with the Riwo community of the Madang Lagoon (Papua New Guinea), where people are strongly connected to the highly threatened surrounding coral reef ecosystems.

Poverty and protected areas: An evaluation of a marine integrated conservation and development project in Indonesia 

Research led by Dr Georgina Gurney


Protected areas are currently the primary strategy employed worldwide to maintain ecosystem services and mitigate biodiversity loss. Despite the prevalence and planned expansion of protected areas, the impact of this conservation tool on human communities remains hotly contested in conservation policy. The social impacts of protected areas are poorly understood largely because previous evaluations have tended to focus on one or very few outcomes, and few have had the requisite data to assess causal effects (i.e.­ longitudinal data for protected and control sites). In this project, we evaluated the short-, medium- and long-term impacts of marine protected areas (MPAs) that were specifically designed to achieve the dual goals of conservation and poverty alleviation (hereafter “integrated MPAs”), on three key domains of poverty (security, opportunity and empowerment) in eight villages in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Using social data for villages with and without integrated MPAs from pre-, mid- and post-the five-year implementation period of the integrated MPAs, we found that the integrated MPAs appeared to contribute to poverty alleviation. Positive impacts spanned all three poverty domains, but within each domain the magnitude of the effects and timescales over which they manifested were mixed. Importantly, positive impacts appeared to occur mostly during the implementation period, after which integrated MPA activities all but ceased and reductions in poverty did not continue to accrue. This finding questions the efficiency of the short-term approach taken in many international donor-assisted protected area projects that integrate development and conservation, which are often designed with the expectation that project activities will be sustained and related benefits will continue to accumulate after external support is terminated.

International conservation guidelines and small-scale fisheries in Pacific island countries

Research led by Dr Mélanie Hamel

Wallis, Alofi, and Futuna are three small islands in the central Pacific Ocean, characterized by different reef geomorphologies. Following a request from the local Environment Service, we developed an indicative conservation plan for each island with two objectives: (1) representing 20% of the extent of each coral reef habitat within no-take areas while (2) keeping all subsistence fishing grounds open for extraction. The first objective was more ambitious than the current Convention on Biological Diversity (Aichi) targets. We found that both objectives could not be achieved simultaneously and that large compromises are needed. Due to the small size of these islands, and the dependence of local communities on coral reef resources, the fishery objective significantly limited the extent of most habitats available for conservation. The problem is exacerbated if the conservation plan uses larger conservation units and more complex habitat typologies. Our results indicate that international conservation guidelines should be carefully adapted to small Pacific islands and that incentives to make feasible the necessary reductions in available fishing grounds will probably be needed.


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 (1681).

Gurney, G., R.L. Pressey, N.C. Ban,  J.G. Álvarez-Romero, S. Jupiter, V. Adams. 2015. Integrating socioeconomic considerations into conservation planning: stakeholders-specific objectives produced more efficient and equitable designs in a marine protected area case study from Fiji. Conservation Biology 29: 1378–1389

Gurney, G.G., J. Cinner, N. Ban, R. Pressey, R. Pollnac, S. Campbell, S. Tasidjawa and F. Setiawan. 2014. Poverty and protected areas: An evaluation of a marine integrated conservaiton and development project in Indonesia. Global Environmental Change 26: 98-107. The final accepted version of the manuscript is freely available here.

Hamel, M.A., Andréfouët, S., Pressey, R.L. (2012) Compromises between international habitat conservation guidelines and small-scale fisheries in Pacific island countries. Conservation Letters, 6: 46–57.

Weeks, R, Russ, GR, Bucol, AA and Alcala, AC (2010). Incorporating local tenure in the systematic design of marine protected area networks. Conservation Letters 3(6): 445-453.


Georgina Gurney

Georgina Gurney

Melanie Hamel

Mélanie A. Hamel

Adrian Arias

Adrian Arias

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About Us
We are a multidisciplinary group of researchers at James Cook University, interested in all aspects of conservation planning and led by Prof. Bob Pressey. We are based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the College of Marine & Environmental Sciences, the College of Business, Law & Governance, and the Cairns Institute. We collaborate widely with conservation biologists and practitioners worldwide. 

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