Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Natural Resource Management

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Syd Shea

Second Supervisor

Chris Simpson


Five Marine Protected Area (MPA) establishment processes undertaken between 1998 and 2012 in Western Australia were reviewed using a case study approach to identify factors affecting establishment. While three MPAs were legally created, two were not, despite significant investment in planning, research and public participation. Processes were generally influenced by complex local and strategic planning issues that were significant barriers to legal establishment.

Planning and public participation processes were generally successful at addressing local concerns, deriving consensus and building ownership but ineffectual at addressing key strategic issues. MPA establishment was primarily influenced by the social, economic and political influences rather than the planning approach and public participation process employed. MPA establishment has readily identifiable and quantifiable short- to medium-term costs that dominate state politics and government decision-making, but the benefits are long-term, subject to debate and difficult to quantify.

The absence of government leadership, and effective cross-jurisdictional strategic marine planning and policy at state and regional levels was a key impediment to establishment, and in many cases the MPA establishment process became a de facto marine spatial planning exercise being forced to address strategic tenure and marine use planning matters to facilitate legal establishment. However, the public participation process and mechanisms were not well structured for this purpose and largely outside the remit of the conservation agency.

Creating an MPA that meets its defined long-term objectives at the establishment stage may be unrealistic. In practice, achieving an MPA that meets defined success criteria should realistically be viewed as a multi-decadal objective. Forcing robust conservation outcomes that have significant social impacts is a high risk strategy that can trigger community and political opposition to MPA creation and be detrimental to the long-term goal of a comprehensive MPA network supported by the community.

Taking advantage of political ‘windows of opportunity’ to establish ‘imperfect’ MPAs and then improving the management framework over time is less costly, lower risk, and a more realistic long-term strategy to establishing MPA networks, predicated on there being appropriate legislative frameworks and government commitment to continual improvement.

Greater government policy leadership and a more strategic approach with broad-based marine spatial planning ahead of MPA establishment is recommended to address the key impediments to MPA establishment, particularly in areas with high social and economic values. This should make public participation processes more efficient and contribute to faster MPA establishment with less stakeholder and community opposition.

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