Aligning public participation with local environmental knowledge in complex marine social-ecological systems
The incorporation of local and traditional knowledges into environmental governance regimes is increasingly recognised as a critical component of effective and equitable conservation efforts. However, there remain significant barriers to integration of community-based knowledge within mainstream environmental governance. This paper explores community-based knowledge in the context of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), a widely-used governance tool designed to predict and manage the impacts of development. Drawing on a social survey and interviews, the paper documents local community knowledge of environmental changes associated with dredging and the construction of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants in a large industrial harbour located in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, and compares this knowledge with public consultation opportunities offered throughout the project lifecycle, including during assessment and after project approval. The findings highlight a misalignment between community knowledge of environmental change, which is acquired largely after impacts become apparent, and the public participation opportunities afforded through EIA, which generally occur before construction or dredging is undertaken.