tion from human disturbance (Inglehart, 1990, 1991, 1997; Abramson and Inglehart, 1995). When polled regarding the “environment-versus-economy” balance, more than 50% of people chose environmental protection over economic benefits in each of 24 nations, except Nigeria, India, and Turkey (Dunlap et al., 1993). These international trends, reflecting preferences for improving environmental protection, suggest that public values worldwide may support ocean conservation measures such as MPAs, based on environmental ethics alone.
How do these attitudes apply to the specific case of conservation in marine ecosystems? Human populations with extensive experience in the use of marine resources often develop a conservation ethic regarding those resources. This ethic directly reflects three factors: (1) the perception of local populations that have special access rights and responsibility for local areas, (2) the environmental knowledge and lessons they have learned from past experience using these resources, and (3) the expectation that future generations will derive subsistence from the ocean just as past generations did. Conservation ethics have developed in coastal populations in as few as three generations (Stoffle et al., 1994b).
Public values can be influenced by organized and collective efforts of relatively small numbers of people. Groups with either an economic interest or a conservationist agenda exert political influence and play a role in developing public awareness and values concerning ocean resources. For example, SeaWeb (http://www.seaweb.org) sponsored a survey conducted by the Mellman Group that showed much support for ocean protected areas (76% in favor) but little awareness of the existence of the National Marine Sanctuary Program (34%). This mobilized ocean conservation organizations to undertake campaigns to increase public understanding of MPAs and the status of national marine sanctuaries. Similarly, groups with an economic interest, such as coastal developers and the fishing industry, seek to influence policy through public information campaigns and political lobbying. Often, public values do not get translated into action because these communities do not have the institutional capability to influence regulatory policies (McCay and Acheson, 1987; Ostrom, 1990; Gibson and Koontz, 1998).
There are also many examples in which societies have severely overexploited marine ecosystems, reflecting a variety of circumstances. Hence, even when a coastal community develops a conservation ethic, short-term exigencies, such as a severe economic depression or a radical shift in climate, can disrupt sustainable practices to provide for immediate needs.
People also consciously damage the natural resources they exploit. For example, if there are no special access rights or responsibility (a factor in the development of a conservation ethic as described above), individual economic incentives favor maximizing current yield, even at the expense of the long-term health of the resource, because the individual has no guarantee that others will not overexploit the resource and thus jeopardize future yields. This consequence of open access has been termed “the tragedy of the commons” (Hardin, 1968).