Over the past decades, marine protected areas (MPAs) have become popular tools for marine conservation and management. However most MPAs fail to meet their goals and are actually “paper parks”. Engaging stakeholders and communities in MPA design and management has been strongly recommended as a way to improve MPA success, as it is known to enhance the quality of decision-making, to reduce conflicts between users and to increase compliance and local support.
This study determined factors that facilitated community and stakeholder engagement in the creation of MPAs in Corvo Island, Azores. With a small population of about 400, this small Portuguese island has been a “natural lab” for marine conservation since the 1990s, including several state-driven tools, community-based initiatives and scientific conservation projects. In-depth interviews carried out with local stakeholders, government officers and scientists revealed that community engagement in Corvo was facilitated by specific traits of the community itself such as: (1) small population size, which allowed a direct contact approach using minimum human and financial resources; (2) local attitudes and beliefs, such as high interest in the island’s affairs and a strong connection to the surrounding natural environment; and (3) community involvement in local decision-making, which is perceived to be a legacy of Corvo’s historical needs of self-governance and self-sufficiency that result from its extreme insularity. The continuous relationships between scientists and the community throughout the many projects carried out in the Island is another factor thought to have facilitated community engagement, as scientists are considered to have influenced community’s perceptions of marine conservation. These relationships were described as informal and going beyond the professional level, which facilitated communication in informal settings and trust-building between participants.
A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.