Agents of Change (AoC) is an initiative from the Marine CoLABoration addressing the lack of public knowledge about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the UK. By listening to and working closely with local people, AoC strives to build a sense of pride and engagement in marine protection in coastal communities. Agents of Change sits at the heart of our strategy to build new collaborative platforms to communicate the value of the ocean more effectively. It is already encouraging shared understanding and acceptance of different view, values, and concerns.
Like protected woodlands or meadows on land, MPAs are designated areas of sea where there are restrictions on activities which can be harmful to the marine environment. They are being applied globally as a tool to recover and safeguard the health of the ocean, but different MPAs have different restrictions and levels of protection in place, and their complexity can be a barrier to understanding and engagement. As a result, protection is not widely supported by society and actively opposed by some coastal communities or sea users who paradoxically depend on the benefits MPAs provide. AoC seeks to change this. By working with different actors within coastal communities and empowering new voices for conservation, AoC aims to strengthen and widen engagement in the process and discussions surrounding marine protection.
AoC uses values-based approaches including the Community Voice Method to foster an understanding and passion for MPAs, ensuring that people value blue spaces as they do green ones. We supported the Marine Conservation Society to employ an AoC co-coordinator in south east England to pilot the project, working with groups from fishermen to schools to coastal businesses to treasure and promote their local MPAs.
In 2021, AoC worked closely with the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Agency to enable community input into fisheries management measures in Norfolk. AoC has successfully encouraged marine regulators and scientists to balance conservation priorities with local needs and build trust. Alongside core support, the UK Branch has funded AoC to create a film sharing their approach with other NGOs and potential commissioners.
Agents of Change film campaign
About the Community Voice Method
The Community Voice Method is a powerful way of surfacing public opinion. Instead of the traditional route of holding a public meeting, it works deeply with the community before any meeting takes place. Stakeholders across an issue are interviewed in depth, and their views are analysed for key themes. A short film is made which reflects the breadth of views and provides a more nuanced, representative and human basis for discussion and decision-making.
Bringing new voices into the debate on marine conservation widens and strengthens discussions. It also helps to democratise marine conservation processes for the benefit of the environment and coastal communities.