Ecology and Education in Marine Protected Areas: Insights from Brazil and South America
South American coastal habitats include a wide range of benthic ecosystems, many of which are unique and constitute hotspots of biodiversity. Marine protected areas (MPAs), instituted mostly during the second half of the twentieth Century, are considered a key management tool to conserve regional biodiversity, prevent overexploitation, and generate economic benefits. Educational actions to promote changes in basic values, principles, and attitudes – although considered also as a main objective – frequently have a poor conceptual basis. In conjunction with the evaluation of their effectiveness by long-term, site-based ecological and socio-economic research, in Brazil MPAs are aiming to implement a holistic approach. This will allow the development and testing of environmental practices that integrate ecology, economy, ethics, and conflict resolution in the different uses of marine space. However, ecological long-term studies, socio-economic long-term evaluation, and the integration of education and ethics are still incipient. With the recent creation of some independent networks in different South American countries related to the assessment of biological communities, marine biologists of this continent are now focusing more on: (1) sharing methodologies and data to allow comparative and integrated continental analyses, and (2) integrating social components, including not only economic but also ethical values and participatory approaches. Toward this aim, the Chilean Long Term Socio- Ecological Research network (LTSER-Chile) has developed a Field Environmental Philosophy program that could be adapted to MPAs educational programs, and also contribute to the integration of ecology and ethics in theory and praxis for an Earth Stewardship initiative.