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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The political economy of marine conservation Alger, Justin


Beginning in the mid-2000s, governments increasingly began relying on marine protected areas (MPAs) larger than 200,000 km2 to help combat declining ocean health. This research asks two questions about this new phenomenon: why have large MPAs emerged as a part of the solution to ocean decline despite uncertain and disputed conservation potential, and what explains variance in how governments locate and manage large MPAs? To answer these questions, I propose a novel framework of environmental norm diffusion that divides the process into two stages: an international norm adoption stage, followed by a domestic norm localization stage. My argument is twofold. First, large MPAs have emerged as a part of a new global norm of large MPAs, with a select few transnational environmental NGOs (ENGOs) strategically targeting prospective sites in the absence of a cohesive multilateral civil society coalition. And second, governments make decisions about where to locate and how to manage a large MPA based on the salience of extractive and non-extractive industry interests within it. These interests are a function of an industry’s intensity of activity, factor specificity, asset specificity, and exogenous stressors. The configuration of industry interests based on these indicators determines the type of stakeholder coalition that forms in a large MPA negotiation process. States then make decisions about large MPA location and management based on which stakeholder group they have aligned their interests with. I explore these arguments through three case studies: the 2014 expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the US, the 2012 Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve in Australia, and the 2015 Palau National Marine Sanctuary in Palau. These case studies reflect state coalitions with ENGOs, the commercial fishing sector, and the ecotourism sector, respectively. This research uses a process tracing methodology that draws from 74 semi-structured fieldwork interviews in Australia, Palau, and the US. Interviewees include ENGO representatives, business owners and managers, industry association representatives, government officials, and marine scientists.

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