The ties that bind: Connections, patterns, and possibilities for marine protected areas

Last modified: 
August 30, 2016 - 1:45am
Type: Thesis
Year of publication: 2015
Authors: Steven Alexander
Institution: University of Waterloo
City: Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Academic department: Social and Ecological Sustainability
Degree: PhD

The purpose of this doctoral research is to characterize and assess how social networks enhance and inhibit the governance of marine protected areas (MPAs). Specifically, I examine the structure and function of multiple networks between social actors to better understand their role in the governance of MPAs, and to address a gap in our understanding of how formal and informal rules, rule-making systems, and actor networks contribute to different MPA outcomes. A focus on the social dimensions of MPAs is critical, as they have emerged as a significant marine conservation and climate change adaptation strategy with substantial implications for coastal communities. The research pursues three specific research objectives: (1) to conceptually develop and illustrate the utility of a social relational network perspective for policy-relevant MPA science; (2) to identify and describe how social networks support and constrain transitions to co-management of small-scale fisheries and MPAs; and (3) to examine how social connectivity among actors affiliated with a MPA network can enhance and inhibit governance fit.

Formal and informal social networks have been repeatedly cited as a key attribute of multi-actor governance arrangements (e.g., co-managed MPAs) in the broader natural resource management literature. Similarly, the role of social networks has been identified as one of the research frontiers for policy-relevant MPA science. However, not all networks are structurally equal with research suggesting that different patterns of social relations contribute to different management and governance outcomes. Accordingly, understanding how social networks influence outcomes of MPAs is a key research area that has been understudied.

A synthetic review was first conducted to outline the emergence and benefit of applying a structurally explicit, social relational network perspective to inform the establishment and governance of MPAs and MPA networks. This social relational network perspective was then used to gain key insights regarding the role of networks for the governance of MPAs and MPA networks based on two empirical cases in Jamaica. The first was a comparative study focused on three Special Fishery Conservation Areas (SFCAs) – i.e., marine no-take areas – and focused on ties between individual fishermen and wardens. The second case examined the actors associated with the national network of Special Fishery Conservation Areas – of which there are fourteen in total – and thus focused on ties between organizations from across the island that contribute to the governance of the SFCAs. Data were collected via a social relational survey (n = 380), semi-structured interviews (n = 63), an organizational network survey (n = 18), focus groups (n = 10), literature and document review, and participant observations. Social network analysis was coupled with qualitative content analysis to assess how patterns of relational ties and interactions between social actors enhance and inhibit the governance of MPAs.

This thesis conceptually develops and empirically illustrates the insights and contributions to be gained from taking a social relational network perspective to examine MPA governance, including how such an approach can be applied at different scales (e.g., community level interactions, organizational interactions) and to understand different aspects and issues (e.g., transitions to co-management, governance fit). The second contribution of this study is to illustrate the utility of a social relational network perspective to examine and understand key governance attributes previously identified in the literature – specifically community cohesion and leadership. The third contribution of this study concerns the re-orientation of thinking about MPA networks from a purely ecological and biophysical perspective towards a greater emphasis on social connectivity. A re-orientation towards the consideration of social connectivity among actors associated with a MPA network contributed to preliminary insights concerning how the structure and function of governance networks may enhance and inhibit mismatches (i.e., spatial, temporal, functional) that plague individual MPAs. While the findings presented here are based on research in Jamaica, they are germane to a wide range of contexts given the global expansion of MPAs and MPA networks where similar social relational challenges and opportunities are bound to occur.

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