How about in your backyard?

Lots of people say, "Yes, I'm in favour of marine reserves in principle, but we don't want one here. Put it somewhere else". When local enthusiasts for a marine reserve first come up against this, they often get very worried. If, wherever the suggested site, there is opposition based not on principle but on a strong dislike of personal inconvenience what are the proponents to do ?

First, they could recognise that this problem is so common it even has a title - NIMBY - standing for Not In My Backyard. Second, we have already learnt how to deal with it. Third, the method for tackling it is rather slow, very hard work and there are no short cuts. Fourth, happily a lot of this work has already been done. Finally this is not just a problem in "other" people, we all do it frequently, and, although there is a element of selfishness and illogicality in it, it is both human and forgivable.

I expect you believe, in principle, that we need schools, hospitals, rubbish tips, motorways, ports and so on. So do I. However, I doubt if you are going to be very pleased if any of these is proposed for right next to your home. Even if you have children of primary school age, it is unlikely that you really want a school playground full of noisy children next door. Even if you commute a long distance to work, you probably don't want a busy motorway off-ramp next to your garden. Don't feel too guilty. This is true of nearly everyone.

Despite the fact that there will always be some strong opposition to any site, we still get schools and roads and other facilities that the community feels are important. This proves the second point. We already have social and political systems for preventing individuals from vetoing public projects. In a democracy, these systems depend not on convincing the locals that a particular site is the very best, but on convincing nearly everyone that the principle needs to be serviced.

If the community at large is convinced that children must be educated then sites for schools will be found. The sites chosen will reflect the level of belief in the principle. If a society feels education is very important, then the school sites will be level, spacious and central, but if schools are generally considered a method of keeping kids out of the way until they can do some useful work, then any little hole-in-a-corner will do for the school. The same principle will apply to marine reserves.

We need to convince large numbers of people that marine reserves are a good idea, and we have already. Even the opposition tends to say "It's a good idea in principle, but...". The next step is to raise the level of belief. If marine reserves are generally perceived as a minor luxury then there will be a few reserves in odd corners. If on the other hand they are important to our successful management of marine resources, a protection of our heritage, necessary for science, education and recreation, etc. then we will get a full and effective network.

But don't be fooled. The NIMBY principle will still apply. It always does. But if enough people believe strongly enough in the principle, NIMBY won't matter. In the meantime we can throw the challenge back at those who say "I believe in the principle, but..." The proper reply is: "Spell that out. Tell us what is this principle you believe in, and why everyone except yourself should contribute to it."

This probably won't convert the objector, but it will indicate to all the other citizens present the nature of the objection. This is not just a tactic. One of the strongest opponents to the first reserve at Leigh based his objection on the likely reduction of the value of his land if you couldn't fish off the adjacent shore. Some years after the establishment of the reserve, this land was put up for sale. Prominent in the advertisement was the proud claim "adjacent to the marine reserve"! Perceived values are changing.

Bill Ballantine
 
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