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Title: A critical examination of the scientific credentials of Marine Protected Areas : sound science or a leap of faith?
Author: Caveen, Alex
Awarding Body: University of Newcastle Upon Tyne
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2013
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Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been widely advocated as a tool to protect marine species and habitats and also as a precautionary measure to prevent overfishing. This thesis attempts to do two things: 1) explain the emergence of MPAs in international and national polices by applying three policy network models – the epistemic community, advocacy coalition, and discourse coalition; and 2) discuss the scientific and normative debates surrounding the designation of MPAs in England. In essence it is a critical analysis of how the natural science of MPAs has been produced, interpreted and applied to inform marine planning. The recurring argument throughout this thesis is that advocacy from scientists for MPAs, particularly no-take marine reserves (NMRs) on the basis of their benefits to fisheries, has caused the science-policy boundary to blur. Chapters 3 and 4 examine the social context in which science on MPAs has been produced. Chapter 3 applies social network analysis to study co-author relationships in the MPA literature, and also examines paper citation networks between different research fields. The main findings were that 90% of scientists leading research on MPAs are marine ecologists and that MPA studies dominate the wider marine literature in terms of the number of publications and number of citations. It is speculated that the popularity of MPAs with marine environmental organisations has meant that a disproportionate amount of money has been spent on MPA research compared to other types of marine management intervention. Chapter 4 examines the publication practices of scientists, and also their experiences of having articles rejected in the peer-review process. Ten percent of scientists who responded did indicate that they thought their manuscript had been rejected because of ideological bias (pro-MPA or anti-MPA) held by a peer-reviewer or editor, though no scientists admitted to self- censorship. Interestingly, a bias towards studies showing stronger effect sizes is likely to exist in the wider ecology literature due to the way that research is incentivised and how researchers prioritise their time; it is easier to get larger effect sizes published in higher impact journals, and it takes more time for a researcher to publish non- significant effects in lower impact journals. The ramification of this finding is that claims made by meta-analyses on the ecological effects of MPAs are likely to be exaggerated. Chapter 5 systematically reviewes the literature showing the ecological effects of MPAs. The main finding was that the majority of studies have focused on the measurement of fish biomass within no-take marine reserves (NMRs), and that measurements have been mainly made on fish assemblages residing over reef type habitats. The evidence for the effect of MPAs on the recovery of temperate fin-fish species residing in soft sediment systems is less clear, thus it is problematic if scientists over-generalise claims on the benefits of MPAs, particularly NMRs, to commercial fin- fish fisheries found around England. In chapter 6 key-informant interviews were carried out with leading members of the English policy community to examine competing worldviews on Marine Conservation Zones (MCZs). A discourse analysis was undertaken on the interview transcripts, and also relevant policy literature that has informed the planning of MCZs in England. Two general discourses were identified, one emphasising the establishment of MPA networks driven by ecological theory whose adherents consist mainly of conservationists, and another, whose adherents consist mainly of members of the fishing industry, emphasised the establishment of MPAs on a case-by case basis to protect habitats vulnerable to damage by mobile fishing gears. This study found that debates preceding the introduction of MCZs were heavily influenced by a popular discourse that documented the decline of English marine ecosystems and emphasised the use of MCZs as a fisheries management tool to rebuild fish stocks. This subsequently caused confusion amongst stakeholders over what objectives MCZs are being designated to achieve, and in the confusion, important normative areas of debate such as equity and fairness issues were overlooked. The concluding chapter focuses on the role of the scientist in the policy process, and discusses how the linear transfer of information from scientist to policy maker is undesirable. It argues that scientists need to be more reflexive in how their underlying worldview affects how they conduct their research, and also affects how they interpret the meaning of their research findings for policy makers. The thesis argues that institutions that encourage a two-way dialogue between scientists, managers, fishermen, and wider civil society need to form, thereby increasing the salience, credibility and legitimacy of scientific knowledge for policy.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available