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How social science is continuing to change and improve marine ecosystem conservation and management: Part I

This article was originally published in The Skimmer.

In 2017, MEAM (now The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management) interviewed 17 social science and interdisciplinary researchers from around the world to learn how their work could improve marine conservation and management practice. Since then, the social science of marine management has developed further in these areas and branched out in many other valuable directions. In this issue of The Skimmer and the next, we update our previous coverage by interviewing an ensemble of other social science and interdisciplinary researchers doing innovative social science work with great potential to improve (or a proven track record) of improving marine conservation and management practice. This work ranges from the use of cognitive mapping to create mental models of how fishers in the Caribbean view and organize the world…to testing how “nudges” could cost-effectively increase compliance with conservation regulations…to innovating how communities participate in marine planning processes to reduce feelings of exclusion and suspicion.

Here is the first set of interviews. As with last time, we hope that you find these research and practice profiles as energizing and inspiring for your own work as we found editing them.


Yoshitaka Ota and Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor: Without new scholarship on ocean governance and equity, we risk a future that further separates the haves and have-nots

Editor’s note: Yoshitaka Ota is the director of the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center and a research assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. He can be contacted at yota1@uw.edu. Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor is deputy director of the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center and a research associate at the University of British Columbia Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries. He can be contacted at a.cisneros@oceans.ubc.ca and on Twitter @AndresMCisneros.

What we are working on: Working with partners all over the world, we have created the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at the University of Washington EarthLab. We do research on oceans, but our focus is on people. Our aim is to close the gap of inequality over the long term and meet the urgent needs of people today. We will do this by recognizing the root causes of inequity; recovering an equitable approach to managing human-oceans activities; and ultimately building new evidence, tools, and narratives that reverse these harms and create a future where oceans are for all people.

Potential and observed influence: After spending a decade working on interdisciplinary socio-ecological research with the Nereus Program to predict the future state of our oceans, it was clear and unsurprising that global environmental changes will negatively impact sustainability – the ability to sustain habitat, biodiversity, and cultural landscapes; protect traditional stewardship; and maintain livelihoods and food sovereignty in coastal communities. What is even more important is that this work has revealed systemic inefficiencies within ocean governance. Decision-makers are unable to respond to sustainability issues in ways that do not exacerbate inequalities between those who benefit from the oceans and those who do not. There are limited governance structures for empowering economically and politically marginalized oceans populations – the people who will be disproportionally affected by the very environmental problems we are trying to solve. Without new scholarship on ocean governance and equity, we risk a future that further separates the haves and have-nots.

To avoid this future, management options must be examined within a much broader context of political powers and social organizations. This does not mean we are getting away from protecting the health of our oceans, but we must prioritize people within the ecosystem that we are trying to improve. In terms of marine management, we must reassess how we make decisions. The usual order linking climate, environment, economy, society, and a policy response may not be the appropriate model. Solutions based on a domino or donut theory, always starting from environmental changes, may fail as an adaptation policy and furthermore cause imbalanced burdens and injustice in our relationships with the oceans (and with each other).

Applicability of this work elsewhere: We view this approach as scalable to other environmental issues because it asks the question: shall humans use and control the environment for our own good or shall we learn to live in harmony for our environment?

Learn more: Learn more about the Ocean Nexus Center and its work here.

To read the other interviews, visit the full article here.