Citizen-Based Sea Turtle Conservation Across the Developing-Developed World Divide

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Cornwell, Myriah Lynne

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This dissertation research explores participatory sea turtle conservation monitoring through a comparison of two case studies, one in North Carolina (NC), USA and the other in Baja California Sur (BCS), Mexico. Participatory approaches in conservation management can supplement state capacity as well as strengthen the involvement of citizens in environmental governance and knowledge production. Despite scholarship challenging the validity of the categories of developing and developed nations, this categorical assumptions derived from this binary world divide continue to inform conservation, and theoretical vocabularies for local roles in conservation management. In developed nations, participatory conservation management is framed through the broader administrative rationalism discourse, and is identified as volunteer conservation or citizen science. In developing nations, participatory conservation management is approached through the discourse of biodiversity and the threats human society poses to it, and is identified through community-based processes of conservation stewardship. The two case studies analyzed in this dissertation serve to interrogate the ways in which these distinct discourses influence outcomes, and consider what may be obscured or overlooked due to discursive constraints.

Conducting ethnographic research in each case study site, I participated in and observed sea turtle conservation activities and conducted in-depth interviews with relevant sea turtle conservation actors as well as collected documents pertaining to the conservation programs. Sea turtle conservation monitors in NC and BCS perform functionally similar conservation tasks, and I collected data using similar techniques in order to maximize comparability. I compare the case studies, not to generalize to a population, but instead to speak to theoretical propositions and inform existing theory on participatory conservation monitoring.

Although participatory monitoring in NC and BCS does not result in a democratization of science, there are beneficial outcomes to participants in both places. NC sea turtle monitors are enabled to take ownership of sea turtle stewardship, and BCS sea turtle monitors are enabled to promote conservation and cultural change using the authority of science. These outcomes challenge assumptions about state capacity and local engagements with science in participatory conservation, and the disparate approaches to local roles in conservation in each `world.' The overall findings suggest that a multitude of factors are involved in the production of conservation program frameworks and participant outcomes, and more deeply interrogating the taken for granted assumptions behind conservation designs and implementation can offer stronger understandings of what participatory conservation management can (and cannot) achieve.






Cornwell, Myriah Lynne (2011). Citizen-Based Sea Turtle Conservation Across the Developing-Developed World Divide. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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