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Interplay of multiple goods, ecosystem services, and property rights in large social-ecological marine protected areas

Natalie C Ban, School of Environmental Studies, University of Victoria; Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Louisa S Evans, Geography, University of Exeter; Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University
Mateja Nenadovic, Duke University Marine Laboratory, Duke University
Michael Schoon, Center for Behavior, Institutions, and the Environment, Arizona State University


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Protected areas are a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation, and increasingly, conservation science is integrating ecological and social considerations in park management. Indeed, both social and ecological factors need to be considered to understand processes that lead to changes in environmental conditions. Here, we use a social-ecological systems lens to examine changes in governance through time in an extensive regional protected area network, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We studied the peer-reviewed and nonpeer-reviewed literature to develop an understanding of governance of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and its management changes through time. In particular, we examined how interacting and changing property rights, as designated by the evolving marine protected area network and other institutional changes (e.g., fisheries management), defined multiple goods and ecosystem services and altered who could benefit from them. The rezoning of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 2004 substantially altered the types and distribution of property rights and associated benefits from ecosystem goods and services. Initially, common-pool resources were enjoyed as common and private benefits at the expense of public goods (overexploited fisheries and reduced biodiversity and ecosystem health). The rezoning redefined the available goods and benefits and who could benefit, prioritizing public goods and benefits (i.e., biodiversity conservation), and inducing private costs (through reduced fishing). We also found that the original conceptualization of the step-wise progression of property rights from user to owner oversimplifies property rights based on its division into operational and collective-choice rule-making levels. Instead, we suggest that a diversity of available management tools implemented simultaneously can result in interactions that are seldom fully captured by the original conceptualization of the bundling of property rights. Understanding the complexities associated with overlapping property rights and multiple goods and ecosystem services, particularly within large-scale systems, can help elucidate the source and nature of some of the governance challenges that large protected areas are facing.

Key words

ecosystem services; Great Barrier Reef; marine conservation; marine protected area; property rights; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087