The Rise and Rise of the Marine Reserves ‘Bandwagon’


Epistemic community

Advocacy coalition


Scientists/experts, and senior bureaucrats

Scientists, bureaucrats, elected officials, lobbyists, grassroots activists, industry, wider civil society

What binds members together?

Common body of knowledge

Principled beliefs

Decision-making model



Science-policy model

Linear model

Deliberative model

How does policy change occur?

Integration of experts of the international regime into their respective national governments, holding those governments to account

Policy change reflects the influence of competing advocacy coalitions, and unless one coalition is overwhelmingly dominant, a policy compromise usually results

Influence of the scientist

Scientists are central to policy change; they analyse the problem and set the policy agenda

Scientists align themselves with their preferred interest groups and offer their expertise in policy debate


Mediterranean pollution control; control of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

MPAs in California; tropical deforestation

2.2.1 Epistemic Community

According to Sundstrom (2000), the concept of epistemic community (EpC) is a way of making sense of the fact that hard-to-grasp decisions may move ­actual, although not necessarily formal, power from elected representatives to elites ­acquainted with the subject in a transnational setting. Peter Haas (1989) first coined the term ‘epistemic community’ to describe the emergence of some international environmental regimes. An important feature of such regimes, in addition to their embodiment of rules and norms (Krasner 1983), is that they facilitate international learning and produce convergent state policies (Haas 1989). The notion of an EpC has been used to explain the coordinated response of states to many collective action problems at both the regional level (e.g. pollution control in the Mediterranean) and the global level (e.g. the regulation of CFCs) (Haas 1989, 1991). On the latter, Haas convincingly emphasised the role of scientific learning in the success of the Montreal Protocol, though critics like Sarewitz (2004) and Pielke (2007) have suggested that the ozone story was less of controversy resolved by science than of positive feedback from convergent scientific, political, diplomatic, and technological trends (including the fact that the main commercial interest—DuPont—eventually aligned itself with the main objective of the policy, that of phasing out CFCs, after it had developed CFC alternatives).

At the heart of the EpC is a group of experts who form around consensual ­knowledge, and share a policy enterprise (the action that needs to be taken to resolve an issue; e.g. the regulation of a hazardous chemical). The EpC is a useful theory for explaining policy responses to highly technical international problems where ­official decision-makers are unfamiliar with the technical details, and thereby unable to define state interests and develop viable solutions (Haas 1992b). This opens the door for a group of motivated individuals who through their expert understanding of the problem area, technical credentials, and common policy enterprise can offer potential solutions. The members of the EpC who are initially responsible for bringing states together to negotiate the international regime often have sufficient influence within their own governments to introduce regulation to their own domestic policy agenda (Haas 1989). The EpC is a good demonstration of the so-called ‘linear model’ of science-policy interaction, in that science is its fundamental bedrock, bringing to light new environmental problems and helping decision-makers to grasp their underlying causes; EpCs set the policy agenda. It is also a top-down model—the EpC is an elite group of scientists who tell truth to government on the problem that exists and the measures needed to overcome it. However, EpCs have had mixed success in practice: For example, while the Montreal Protocol has been viewed by some as very successful in limiting CFC emissions, the Kyoto Protocol has failed to curb global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Evidence of the existence of an EpC committed to the cause of MRs comes from the fact that in the processes of getting provisions for MRs written into international regimes and agreements, leading roles were taken by a group of like-minded individuals in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), marine scientists, and MR planners and managers (Kelleher and Kenchington 1991; Salm et al. 2000; IUCN 2008). This community was united in its recognition of the MR as the best approach to protect marine biodiversity, and aimed at establishing MR networks to systematically protect representative habitats across each of the major marine provinces (OSPAR 2003b; Toropova et al. 2010). The policy ­recommendations of this EpC have been extensive: a number of guidelines and best practices have been provided by academics, ENGOs, research consultancies, and individual governments for the planning, development, management and evaluation of such MPA networks (Pomeroy et al. 2004).

Until 1985, only about 430 MPAs had been created, mainly covering relatively small coastal areas (De Silva et al. 1986; Bjorklund 1974), and few of these were MRs, mostly established for the purpose of scientific research—for example, Leigh Island, New Zealand (1975), Las Cruces, Chile (1982), and Apo Island, Philippines (1982). However, during the 1990s, the EpC became increasingly influential on the direction of international marine policy, and in 1992 the IUCN’s Fourth World Congress on National Parks recommended that a global system of MPAs representing all major biogeographic types and ecosystems should be established. Later that year, the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio called on coastal states to maintain ­biological diversity and productivity of marine species and habitats through the establishment and management of protected areas through the CBD. The ­ratification of the CBD in 1994 placed a duty on signatory states to encourage ‘projects that promote the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity of coastal and marine resources under threat’ (CBD 1994: 34(k)) implying the establishment of MPAs. However, explicit provisions for MPAs were not made in the CBD until 2006, when a target was adopted that stated that 10 % of each marine and coastal ecological region should be conserved in MPAs by 2010. In 1995, the IUCN elaborated the idea of creating a representative system of MPAs for each of the world’s major coastal biogeographic regions, identifying priorities for both regional and national authorities for establishing new MPAs or for improving management in those which already existed but were poorly managed or not managed at all (Kelleher et al. 1995). In 2003, the 12 coastal European nations of the Oslo Paris (OSPAR) Commission agreed to set up an ‘ecologically coherent’ network of MPAs in the Northeast ­Atlantic by 2010, though no definition of ecological coherence was provided (Ardron 2008a).

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