Conservation actions most often occur in peopled seascapes and landscapes. As a result, conservation decisions cannot rely solely on evidence from the natural sciences, but must also be guided by the social sciences, the arts and the humanities. However, we are concerned that too much of the current attention is on research that serves an instrumental purpose, by which we mean that the social sciences are used to justify and promote status quo conservation practices. The reasons for engaging the social sciences, as well as the arts and the humanities, go well beyond making conservation more effective. In this editorial, we briefly reflect on how expanding the types of social science research and the contributions of the arts and the humanities can help to achieve the transformative potential of conservation.
Large marine protected areas (LMPAs) are increasingly being established and have a high profile in marine conservation. LMPAs are expected to achieve multiple objectives, and because of their size are postulated to avoid trade-offs that are common in smaller MPAs. However, evaluations across multiple outcomes are lacking. We used a systematic approach to code several social and ecological outcomes of 12 LMPAs. We found evidence of three types of trade-offs: trade-offs between different ecological resources (supply trade-offs); trade-offs between ecological resource conditions and the well-being of resource users (supply-demand trade-offs); and trade-offs between the well-being outcomes of different resource users (demand trade-offs). We also found several divergent outcomes that were attributed to influences beyond the scope of the LMPA. We suggest that despite their size, trade-offs can develop in LMPAs and should be considered in planning and design. LMPAs may improve their performance across multiple social and ecological objectives if integrated with larger-scale conservation efforts.
It has long been claimed that a better understanding of human or social dimensions of environmental issues will improve conservation. The social sciences are one important means through which researchers and practitioners can attain that better understanding. Yet, a lack of awareness of the scope and uncertainty about the purpose of the conservation social sciences impedes the conservation community’s effective engagement with the human dimensions.