Addressing social and economic considerations is crucial to the success of Marine Protected Area (MPA)
planning and management. Ineffective social assessment can alienate local communities and undermine the success of existing and future MPAs. It is rare to critique the success of methods used
currently to incorporate social and economic considerations into MPA planning. Three Australian MPA
planning processes covering three states and incorporating federal and state jurisdictions are reviewed
in order to determine how potential social impacts were assessed and considered. These case studies
indicate that Social Impact Assessment (SIA) is under-developed in Australian MPA planning.
Assessments rely heavily on public participation and economic modelling as surrogates for dedicated
SIA and are followed commonly by attitudinal surveys to gauge public opinion on the MPA after its
establishment. The emergence of issues around public perception of the value of MPAs indicates the
failure of some of these proposals to adequately consider social factors in planning and management.
This perception may have potential implications for the long term success of individual MPAs. It may
also compromise Australia’s ability to meet international commitments for MPA targets to gazette at
least 10% of all its marine habitats as MPAs. Indeed, this is demonstrated in two of the three case
studies where social and economic arguments against MPAs have been used to delay or block the future
expansion of the MPA network.