Management priorities for seawater desalination plants in a marine protected area: A multi-criteria analysis
The development of seawater desalination plants to increase water reliability in coastal areas poses a threat to the health of near shore marine ecosystems and may affect the effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs) that have been established to meet international conservation targets. This paper applies a multi-criteria analysis approach to quantify stakeholder groups’ priorities for seawater desalination plants that have been proposed in communities adjacent to a National Marine Sanctuary. All groups placed the highest importance on minimizing environmental impacts on protected areas and endangered species that could be affected by water intake and brine discharge emphasizing the need for integrated land and sea conservation. Minimizing socio-economic impacts on coastal communities was much less important. Stakeholders also weighted reducing pressure on water levels in rivers, streams, and aquifers as more important than increasing water for residential consumption, which may foster coastal growth rather than replacing water taken from other sources. The study further revealed differences in the importance of multiple management objectives among stakeholder groups, which highlights the need to elicit distinct priorities of all groups to understand concerns and potential conflicts of desalination with existing marine users. The analysis of consistency ratios revealed that around half of all surveyed stakeholders had high inconsistencies in their responses, which suggests either a lack of understanding of desalination, or reflects the complexity of establishing desalination plants in coastal areas adjacent to a marine protected area.