Publication Date

Summer 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Environmental Studies


Katherine Cushing


Collaborative Planning, Environmental Decision-Making, Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), Marine Protected Area, Public Participation, Stakeholder Engagement

Subject Areas

Environmental studies; Ecology; Environmental management


This study focuses on the MPA network planning process associated with California’s Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) in southern California, occurring between 2008-2009. This case study demonstrates the ongoing complexity of MPA planning efforts in balancing social and science goals and reinforces the view that public participation alone may not be sufficient in achieving the type of stakeholder support needed for successful MPA implementation. Using a qualitative approach, this research draws upon the field of public participation to examine the efficacy of the planning process from the perspectives of fishing, government, and environmental stakeholders. Findings reveal significant differences in perceptions among stakeholder groups. The fishing stakeholder group felt marginalized and expressed dissatisfaction with the process and the final MPA designations. The environmental and government stakeholder groups expressed a higher level of satisfaction, but were disappointed with the compromises that were made on the scientific criteria used for MPA design. The key factors that impacted stakeholder perceptions about the planning process and outcome were decision-making, influence, and transparency. Despite these findings, this study highlights a number of positive outcomes associated with capacity-building.