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Social acceptability of conservation interventions for flatback turtles: comparing expert and public perceptions

Paris Tuohy*, Shane A. Richards, Christopher Cvitanovic, Ingrid van Putten, Alistair J. Hobday, Linda Thomas, Ruby Annand-Jones

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sea turtles are facing significant threats, including anthropogenic warming, predation from feral animals, and sea level rise. While a range of intervention options are available, resource constraints and increasing time pressures means managers face the difficult task of prioritising options. To achieve successful conservation outcomes, managers are increasingly seeking to understand the social acceptability, as well as biological plausibility and economic feasibility, of these intervention options. Previous studies have used expert opinion as predictors of social acceptability given their technical knowledge and experience implementing the interventions; however, the assumption that the social acceptability of interventions is the same for the general public and experts is largely untested. We test this assumption using surveys to assess the social acceptability of 24 interventions proposed for a population of flatback turtles (Natator depressus) in north-west Australia. Survey responses were collected from community members (residents) and experts (resource managers and researchers). Experts were asked to provide their own opinion of acceptability and how they perceived community members would rate intervention options. In general, residents ranked interventions that directly intervene with human behaviour or the environment as more acceptable than those that directly targeted turtles, while experts tended to favour direct turtle interventions. However, experts incorrectly predicted that the community would not be influenced by the target of the intervention. Our findings highlight the importance of understanding social acceptability of interventions before implementation to inform management decisions and engagement and communication strategies, particularly when interventions might be controversial or restrict human behaviour directly.