Investigating Causal Pathways Linking Site-Level Characteristics, Compliance, and Ecological Performance in Caribbean MPAs

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A rapidly growing body of empirical evidence has linked improved ecological performance of social–ecological systems (SES) with better compliance with rules governing human activities. Researchers have proposed several key factors that motivate an individual to comply with resource use rules, including deterrence, social pressures, moral inclinations, and perceived legitimacy of rules and responsible authorities. Much of the research on compliance proposes causal mechanisms at the individual human level, but few studies test causal paths with empirical data particularly at the site level. This study tested a proposed pathway for explaining overall compliance rates and ecological performance in SES using data from structured surveys of community members, key informant interviews, policy documents, and coral reef surveys at marine protected areas (MPAs) and their associated human communities in the wider Caribbean. Findings indicate that compliance and other active MPA management interventions positively affect ecological performance, and site-level contextual factors (level of community development and being part of a political network) positively influence significant predictors of overall compliance rates, which include active MPA management and enforced punishments.

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Coastal Management