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Frontiers in Marine Science

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Climatic change, conservation planning


A loss of memory of past environmental degradation has resulted in shifted baselines, which may result in conservation and restoration goals that are less ambitious than if stakeholders had a full knowledge of ecosystem potential. However, the link between perception of baseline states and support for conservation planning has not been tested empirically. Here, we investigate how perceptions of change in coral reef ecosystems affect stakeholders' willingness to pay (WTP) for the establishment of protected areas. Coral reefs are experiencing rapid, global change that is observable by the public, and therefore provide an ideal ecosystem to test links between beliefs about baseline states and willingness to support conservation. Our survey respondents perceived change to coral reef communities across six variables: coral abundance, fish abundance, fish diversity, fish size, sedimentation, and water pollution. Respondants who accurately perceived declines in reef health had significantly higher WTP for protected areas (US $256.80 vs. $102.50 per year), suggesting that shifted baselines may reduce engagement with conservation efforts. If WTP translates to engagement, this suggests that goals for restoration and recovery are likely to be more ambitious if the public is aware of long term change. Therefore, communicating the scope and depth of environmental problems is essential in engaging the public in conservation.


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