Measuring the ‘level of compliance’ has emerged as a key performance indicator for MPA success internationally. Accurate interpretation of quantitative and qualitative compliance data is critical for determining which compliance activities contribute to specific management outcomes. To demonstrate the value of enforcement data in effective MPA management, more than 5000 enforcement actions from 2007 to 2013 from five New South Wales (NSW) Marine Parks were analysed. Specifically, it was tested whether through time: (i) the number of enforcement actions standardised by surveillance effort declined-indicating that ‘general deterrence’ was being achieved; (ii) the number of repeat offenders decreased-indicating that ‘specific deterrence’ was being achieved; (iii) the number of ‘local community’ enforcement actions standardised by surveillance effort declined-indicating growing support for marine parks was being achieved at the community level; and (iv) the percentage of young offenders (<25 yr) had declined-indicating that education programs targeting young adults were successful. Results indicated that general deterrence was not being achieved, with offence rates being relatively stable between years. In contrast, compliance measures were achieving individual deterrence, with the percentage of repeat offenders being very low (0.13–0.83%). Although compliance strategies may be making some progress in improving local compliance in some marine parks, the overall offence rate of local communities was concerning. The data suggested that there were major differences in compliance rates among age groups of offenders over time, although the percentage of young offenders declined over time in three marine parks. Over the six-year data collection period, there was no discernable improvement in compliance rates in most NSW Marine Parks. Overall, the significant value of collecting and analysing information on enforcement activities for MPAs was demonstrated, an often neglected aspect of their management world-wide.
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