California dreaming: Challenges posed by transposing science-based marine protected area planning processes in different political contexts
In response to direct and indirect pressures on the marine environment posed by increased development and climate change, the international community has been planning and implementing networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in national waters. This paper critically assesses the role of evidence in marine conservation planning in the United Kingdom (UK), a process that drew heavily on the example set by California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) planning process. Whereas a science advisory panel played a constructive role and facilitated MPA planning in the Californian context, the outcome in the UK was quite different; evidence became a sticking point hampering the process. The actual designation of sites in the UK has been slower than expected, and none of the Reference Areas (i.e., no-take MPAs) proposed by stakeholder-led consultations have been implemented. Drawing on interviews with participants in the UK process and on theoretical debates surrounding evidence-based decision-making, this paper provides recommendations for effective science-driven marine conservation.