MPA: Marine Protected Area or Marine Pluriversive Area? A Political Ontology of Large Scale Marine Conservation in Rapa Nui (Easter Island Chile)

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title

Repository Usage Stats



Large-scale Marine Protected Areas (LSMPAs) have recently and rapidly proliferated as a tool in global conservation governance, despite growing concerns for the implications for social justice and equity. This dissertation contributes to the emergent scholarship on the “human dimensions” of LSMPAs through a qualitative, multi-sited ethnography of the process of establishing two LSMPAs in Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile), focusing on how politics and power affect outcomes for equity in marine conservation practice. It engages with the anthropological literature on conservation, using the framework of political ontology to explore the following three, thematic research questions:

1) Collapsing the Nature/Culture Divide: What are the “human dimensions” of large-scale marine conservation in sites characterized as “remote” and “pristine”?

2) Identifying Multi-natures in LSMPA Establishment: What are the effects of LSMPAs that purport to conserve remote and pristine spaces on indigenous ontologies of marine territory in Rapa Nui?

3) Multi-culturalism in LSMPA Establishment: How do the power relations and the politics of authority and recognition within participatory LSMPA establishment processes affect social justice outcomes for the indigenous Rapanui people?

Overall, this dissertation engages with anthropological theories of conservation and the emergent field of political ontology to provide an account of the human dimensions of LSMPAs, with a focus on how ontological politics and power relations affect indigenous participation in establishment processes. The dissertation is divided into three chapters, which are introduced with short, ethnographic vignettes that root this data within its ethnographic context and use storytelling to further develop the theoretical contributions of each chapter through the words and perspectives of the individuals who contributed to this ethnography. This dissertation contributes to anthropological analyses of conservation practice through an ethnographic account of the ontological dimensions of environmental conflict. It contributes to the burgeoning literature on the human dimensions of LSMPAs through an empirical engagement with participatory practice in LSMPA establishment processes.





Zigler, Sarah Bess Jones (2020). MPA: Marine Protected Area or Marine Pluriversive Area? A Political Ontology of Large Scale Marine Conservation in Rapa Nui (Easter Island Chile). Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.