Social preferences for the design of biodiversity offsets for shorebirds in Australia

Understanding the social acceptability of biodiversity offsets is important to the design of offset policy. We used a discrete choice experiment to quantify preferences of Australians for a migratory shorebird offset in the context of an oil and gas development project. We surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1371 respondents on their preferences for current and prospective offset-policy characteristics via an online questionnaire to inform policy design of the social dimensions related to offset acceptability. The majority of respondents accepted offsetting as a means to allow economic development; the option to reject development (and an offset) was selected in 13% of possible offset scenarios. Substituting protection of a species affected by the development with protection of a more endangered species was a desirable policy characteristic, as was having the offset implemented by a third party or the government rather than the company responsible for the development. Direct offset activities (e.g., improving degraded habitat) were preferred over indirect activities (e.g., a research program), and respondents were strongly against locating the offset at a site other than where the impact occurred. Positive and negative characteristics of offsets could be traded off by changing the number of birds protected by the offset. Our results show that Australians are likely to support increased flexibility in biodiversity-offset policies, particularly when undesirable policy characteristics are compensated for.

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