As world-wide attention continues to focus on serious environmental stresses, including biodiversity loss, e.g., the recently concluded meeting of IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille, France; food security, e.g., the UN Food Systems Summit, 23 September 2021; and the impact of climate change, e.g., the upcoming UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland 31 October-12 November 2021, many countries are making commitments to address these significant concerns. For example, in order to meet the 2010 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, Canada set a goal of protecting 10% of its maritime territory waters, which it achieved by December 2020, even exceeding the 10% objective.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are a well-established conservation tool widely adopted globally. However, the effectiveness of MPAs has been “undermined by confusion about the many MPA types and consequent widely differing outcomes” (Grorud-Colvert et al., 2021, p. 1). In addition, the process to designate an MPA is often lengthy and consultation with stakeholders and rightsholders can be difficult and complicated. The implications for conservation processes can be profound, negatively influencing people’s behaviours, livelihoods, and attitudes about conservation initiatives. When an MPA is created in a coastal area, opposition and local concern may be greater than for MPAs situated further offshore. Information in various forms and guises plays an important role in the development and implementation of MPAs, but few studies have examined this subject.
In a new paper, “Understanding the role of information in marine policy development: establishing a coastal marine protected area in Nova Scotia, Canada,” EIUI team members Hali Moreland, Elizabeth De Santo, and Bertrum MacDonald report on an informative case study of the consultation process for a potential new MPA on the Eastern Shore Islands area along the coast of Nova Scotia, initiated by the Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). This research highlighted several key factors that can affect consultation processes. Specifically, the study examined which information sources and channels participants preferred and how aspects of misinformation, trust, mistrust, and contextual factors influenced their information-related activities. The opportunity for this research was unprecedented, as the consultation process was ongoing during the data collection period. A combination of historical context, political pressures, trust, mistrust, and diverse stakeholder and rightsholder groups made the consultation a uniquely suitable process to examine and illustrate information use and the associated factors that may relate to the ultimate success or failure of the conservation initiative.
The results show that both trust/mistrust and the local context were critical factors affecting the potential success of stakeholder and rightsholder engagement, and they also influenced the use of information sources and channels. Community context, in particular, significantly influenced mistrust of government agencies. Local community ownership was another element of concern in the consultation process. Whether and how stakeholders feel their participation matters, i.e., that their voices are heard, can influence the effectiveness of subsequent policies. Timing is a key issue in effective engagement practices, yet is often a challenge in consultation processes. Timing of meetings, time to build relationships, and the speed of information dissemination can facilitate either community engagement or present major hurdles that contribute to mistrust and lack of empowerment of stakeholders.
This study also highlighted the presence of misinformation, which is a widespread problem that has become considerably more pronounced since the rise of social media. The negative effects of online misinformation were greater than anticipated, and no one in the consultation process was equipped to manage such information effectively. Access to clearly presented and up-to-date information is a critical factor in building trust and local community ownership of conservation initiatives. The deficit model of research communication, i.e., simply providing more and more information with the expectation that it will fill a gap in understanding, has often proven to be ineffective. Thus, alternative methods to facilitate updating of information and mitigate the influence of misinformation are needed.
Overall, this study identified a variety of factors that can affect the uptake and use of information within a consultation process and emphasized the importance of understanding these factors when introducing and implementing conservation initiatives. The results demonstrate that the factors affecting information-related activities were complex, yet innately human. Incorporating human dimensions into marine policy planning is increasingly recognized and prioritized. Greater emphasis on the social science aspects of conservation projects can contribute to more successful outcomes.
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Moreland, H. R., De Santo, E. M., & MacDonald, B. H. (2021). Understanding the role of information in marine policy development: establishing a coastal marine protected area in Nova Scotia, Canada. FACETS, 6, 1539-1569. https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2020-0109
Abstract: Canada has expanded its marine protected area (MPA) coverage in line with the Aichi Biodiversity Target of protecting 10% of its marine territory by 2020. In 2018, a consultation process was launched to designate an Area of Interest surrounding the Eastern Shore Islands area off the coast of Nova Scotia, as the potential 15th Oceans Act MPA in Canada (DFO 2021a). This region has a fraught history with external conservation interventions and, consequently, there was a significant level of local mistrust in the process. This study explored the role of information in the consultation process and how it interplayed with the historical context, political pressures, trust, and mistrust among stakeholders and rightsholders. Drawing on interviews, a detailed desktop analysis, and participant observation at consultation meetings, this paper describes what worked well and what could be improved with respect to the sources of information used and the channels through which stakeholders and rightsholders accessed it. This case study demonstrates that while preferences for information sources and channels are context specific and varied, they are inherently personal and influenced by shared histories, trust, and individual beliefs.
Grorud-Colvert, K., Sullivan-Stack, J., Roberts, C., Constant, V., Horta e Costa, B., Pike, E. P., Kingston, N., Laffoley, D., Sala, E., Claudet, J., Friedlander, A. M., Gill, D. A., Lester, S. E., Day, J. C., Gonçalves, E. J., Ahmadia, G. N., Rand, M., Villagomez, A., Ban, N. C., … Lubchenco, J. (2021). The MPA Guide: A framework to achieve global goals for the ocean. Science, 373(6560). https://doi.org/10.1126/science.abf0861
Image credit: Department of Fisheries and Oceans. (2021, April 1). Eastern Shore Islands: A coastal gem. [YouTube video]. https://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/oceans/aoi-si/easternshore-ilescoteest-eng.html
Authors: Hali R. Moreland, Elizabeth De Santo & Bertrum H. MacDonald