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Strategically Integrating Human Dimensions into Marine Conservation Decision Making


There is a broad perception that many of the greatest knowledge gaps in marine conservation are in understanding and integrating human dimensions. Marine governance must go beyond the rhetoric that conservation will benefit from including human dimensions, and dig deeper into social science disciplines to find specific tools that may be useful. Bennett et al. (2017) advocate for “fostering knowledge on the scope and contributions of the social sciences to conservation” from the inception of conservation projects, during all stages of planning and implementation and at all scales, and encourage the mainstreaming of social science into conservation. However, the fractured nature of literature pointing to the importance of social science has left many unsure what is really important or what to do. This dissertation seeks to remedy this, first by mainstreaming how to strategically consider social equity, and second by learning from collective action studies.

Social equity is increasingly included in conservation mission statements – either because it is an intrinsic goal or because it is believed to have functional value to help reach other objectives. Until now, social equity has been vaguely defined, and therefore been difficult to include, monitor and evaluate in environmental governance. Chapter 1 presents a theoretical foundation for defining and distinguishing between different types of social equity and considering social equity’s role in conservation outcomes. First, we introduce the equity landscape as a way to describe the distributions of resources and participation rights in a society supported by social norms in a given community. We use case studies to illustrate how environmental management can benefit from considering the equity landscape in both short- and long-term strategy. Through collaborative efforts, we also describe social equity to include several dimensions – including participation (or input to conservation interventions), and spatial, access, and financial outcomes of a conservation intervention (Klein et al. 2015). Chapter 1 motivates collecting empirical evidence of how different types of equity are experienced in a community and their influence on stakeholder behavior.

Therefore, in Chapter 2 we investigate how fishers perceive and experience these different dimensions of equity, and how different dimensions of equity influence fisher compliance with social norms and willingness to punish defectors. Our interdisciplinary approach combines a behavioral experiment and surveys, and informs important decisions on critical design elements, such as should the intervention focus on participation, or outcomes of the intervention, such as access or financial benefits? Should equity objectives be equal or fair? And, how should managers measure these objectives? This research provides important empirical insight on how equity and conservation outcomes are interlinked and how management actions may influence stakeholder cooperation, thus presenting a unique insight into equity that is applicable to a wide range of settings.

Second, this dissertation highlights the potential benefits of integrating collective action literature in fisheries management. Most problems in fisheries management are rooted in some sort of tragedy of the commons. Understanding the conditions under which cooperation can emerge and how to create policies around those conditions is extremely important for successful fisheries governance. The collective action literature contains a wealth of knowledge on how diverse types of societies can solve cooperation problems and real-world management questions.

Chapter 3 investigates two such applied questions: Do self-assembled or randomly assigned groups cooperate better? And, if there are costs to random assignment, what strategies might help offset some of these costs? We show that self-assembly and the ability to communicate face-to-face both increase compliance with rules and punishment of defectors, although self-assembly has a greater effect.

This work is specific to artisanal fishing communities in Tañon Strait, Philippines, but provides an approach to solving questions managers have to make on a range of key issues that likely have big consequences on conservation outcomes. By combining interdisciplinary theory and methods, my dissertation highlights how social science can both integrate into and aid conservation efforts.

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