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Community-based conservation as a relational process: A case study of marine turtle conservation in Tanzania

West, Lindsey (2024) Community-based conservation as a relational process: A case study of marine turtle conservation in Tanzania. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.105051) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:105051)

Language: English

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Community-based approaches have been widely adopted as a strategy to achieve ecological and social goals, yet they continue to generate mixed outcomes for biodiversity and people. The inconsistency in outcomes has been attributed to a multitude of factors including the oversimplified view of communities as homogenous units, and inadequate attention to the complex social and cultural contexts in which community-based conservation is embedded. Furthermore, global conservation policy continues to characterise local actors as driven by monetary and self-interests. This framing has resulted in the proliferation of market-based approaches and over reliance on economic incentives for participation. However, these approaches have failed to halt biodiversity loss, indicating that people's relationships with nature cannot be reduced to economics alone.

In this thesis I explore the practice and outcomes of community-based conservation by considering the 'non-rationality' of local actors, as well as their social and cultural environment. I use a community-based marine turtle conservation programme in Tanzania as a case study. The programme generates economic benefits for a limited number of direct participants, yet it has secured widespread support amongst coastal communities for more than 20 years. Taking an interdisciplinary mixed methods approach, I explore the ecological outcomes for the focal species as well as the broader social and cultural processes that drive these outcomes. I focus on the influence of values, emotions, and subjectivities, as well as the material conditions of community life, which are a complex mix of family and kinship structures, social identities, relations, networks, and spaces.

I start by presenting the first detailed evaluation of the outcomes of community-based conservation on a globally endangered marine species in Tanzania. I show that conservation measures at nesting beaches have resulted in an upward trend in green turtle nest abundance and hatchling production. Next, I reveal the motivations of local actors who participate in marine turtle conservation. I demonstrate that motivational processes are complex and change over time as the costs and benefits of participation are realised. I uncover patterns of difference in knowledge, experiences, and perceptions of marine turtles amongst residents of coastal communities and draw conclusions about the role of the social and cultural environment in shaping access to learning opportunities. Finally, I identify a relational value orientation as a predictor of public support for marine turtle conservation and argue that social obligations and perceptions of legitimacy provide a pathway for the reproduction of relational values.

Overall, I show that the multiple dimensions of community-based conservation - motivation, participation, social learning, legitimacy judgements, and public support can all be animated by relational thinking. I conclude that relational features including caring for nature, attachments to place, shared identities, and social relationships play a key role in shaping the practice and outcomes of community-based conservation. Therefore, I conceptualise community-based conservation as a relational process, embodied in meaningful acts of reciprocity between nature, people, and place, and continually constructed and negotiated through daily interactions amongst social actors.

With these insights, my research contributes to current scholarly debates about the importance of integrating relational thinking into decision-making and the need for deeper engagement with the social sciences. My research has relevance to conservation policy and practice, particularly in view of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework and the emerging Blue Economy agenda.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Fish, Robert
Thesis advisor: Bride, Ian
Thesis advisor: Tzanopoulos, Joseph
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.105051
Uncontrolled keywords: community-based conservation, biodiversity, socio-cultural, relationality, participation, motivation, diverse values, marine turtles, Tanzania
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Anthropology and Conservation > DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 20 Feb 2024 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 21 Feb 2024 13:48 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

West, Lindsey.

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