The Politics of Pacific Ocean Conservation: Lessons from the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve

Last modified: 
April 19, 2017 - 9:53pm
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2017
Date published: 03/2017
Authors: Justin Alger, Peter Dauvergne
Journal title: Pacific Affairs
Volume: 90
Issue: 1
Pages: 29 - 50
ISSN: 0030-851X

Drawing on seventy-four interviews, this article analyzes the rising importance since the mid-2000s of large marine protected areas (MPAs) as a policy for managing ocean conservation. Governments have initiated eighteen large MPAs (over 200,000 km2) since 2006, reflecting the emergence of a new large MPA norm in marine conservation. This norm, we argue, emerged because of the success of a few transnational nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in identifying politically feasible large MPAs, and then forming ad hoc domestic coalitions to lobby for them. This explanation is in contrast to most of the literature on how and why norms diffuse internationally, as well as existing explanations for the rise of large MPAs, both of which emphasize the importance of cohesive coalitions of transnational NGOs lobbying in multilateral venues. This bottom-up, international norm diffusion strategy has made large MPAs a viable policy option, one national jurisdiction at a time. For instance, this strategy was a critical element in convincing the UK to create the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve (835,000 km2) in 2015. Given the politics underlying the formation of large MPAs, where political gains have been high, and corporate and societal resistance relatively low, the creation of more large MPAs would seem likely, as occurred in 2016 when the UK announced it would designate three more large MPAs by 2020, totalling over 1.4 million km2. Growing support for large MPAs as a conservation strategy could also embolden states to establish large MPAs in more politically and economically contested waters, including on the Pacific high seas.

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