Last month, three UW researchers representing two EarthLab organizations presented at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference. Their research centered around ocean equity and access to data. Curious to learn more? Watch the presentation recordings below:
Virtual webinar on ocean equity from Ocean Nexus Center
The Ocean Nexus-led side event introduced a new framework to showcase the development and transmission of Procedural Key Performance Indicators (PKPI), that guide sustainable development efforts in oceans to contribute to reducing social inequity and inequality. Eight Nexus fellows and postdoc researchers within the Ocean Nexus network will present their work on feminist epistemology, ocean’s climate justice, social impacts of marine conservation, racial history of US fisheries and ocean plastic policy in Italy.
In-Person event on access to data moderated by Washington Ocean Acidification Center
The University of Washington’s Washington Ocean Acidification Center and Ocean Nexus Center hosted a side event “Ocean Acidification: Co-designing data connections to underserved communities for equitable outcomes” during the United Nations Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, on June 30th, 2022. The event highlighted successful partnerships with Indigenous, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and other underserved communities on co-designing activities for adaptation and response strategies.
Next week, UW will be sending researchers to the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference, which will take place in Lisbon, Portugal, from June 27-July 1. This five-day conference will seek to advance momentum around science-based innovative solutions related to global ocean action within the UN Sustainable Development Goal #14: “to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”
Virtual webinar on ocean equity from Ocean Nexus Center
On Monday, The Ocean Nexus Center’s Director Dr. Yoshitaka Ota and team will gather virtually and present at the UN Ocean Conference to introduce new frameworks for developing and conducting such ocean equity studies.
Ocean Nexus is a transdisciplinary international network of over 30 research institutes and 100 ocean researchers focused on bringing social equity to ocean governance. This network is built on a 10-year partnership between the Nippon Foundation and the University of Washington.
“We are committed to building relationships at the global scale to deepen our understanding of social equity in the context of ocean management and collectively address systemic injustices, such as racial and gender discrimination and post-colonial hegemony,” said Dr. Ota, who is also a Professor of Practice at the UW School of Marine & Environmental Affairs. “Traditionally, ocean issues are treated separately from social issues, but our team believes that sustainable ocean development must include evolving evidence measurements and innovative performance indicators for a procedural and just transformation of oceans.”
The Ocean Nexus-led side event will introduce a new framework to showcase the development and transmission of Procedural Key Performance Indicators (PKPI), that guide sustainable development efforts in oceans to contribute to reducing social inequity and inequality. Eight Nexus fellows and postdoc researchers within the Ocean Nexus network will present their work on feminist epistemology, ocean’s climate justice, social impacts of marine conservation, racial history of US fisheries and ocean plastic policy in Italy.
The event will open by explaining the co-development processes behind the PKPI creation, how researchers are adapting the framework to specific ocean equity contexts, and will conclude by inviting collaborating researchers, government officials and decision-makers into a moderated Q&A. This session is free and open to the public. UW post doc researchers Jessica Vandenberg, School of Marine and Environmental Affairs, and Rebeca de Buen Kalman, Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, will be presenting their work as a part of this Ocean Nexus side event. Grant Blume, associate teaching professor at the Evans School, will also be attending the conference on behalf of the UW.
In-Person event on access to data moderated by Washington Ocean Acidification Center
On Thursday afternoon, Dr. Jan Newton (WOAC Co-Director, Senior Principal Oceanographer at UW Applied Physics Laboratory and UW affiliate Professor of oceanography) will moderate an in-person panel discussion in Lisbon entitled “Ocean Acidification: Co-designing data connections to underserved communities for equitable outcomes.”
The Washington Ocean Acidification Center was established in 2013 following the recommendation of the Washington state Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. Based within EarthLab at the University of Washington, WOAC serves the entire state as a regional research hub that monitors, studies and trains the next generation of scientists, managers and decision-makers to face the challenges posed by ocean acidification.
This in-person UN side event will highlight how global programs – such as the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network’s UN programme Ocean Acidification Research for Sustainability (OARS) and the Nippon Foundation’s Ocean Nexus Center at UW – can give visibility to local voices, especially those of Indigenous, Small Island Developing States and other underserved communities that depend on ocean-based economies for their survival.
“We need to consider the importance of local ocean acidification efforts conducted within effective global coordination, to take action at both of these scales,” said Dr. Newton. “It is critical to conduct local scale observations co-designed with communities, assuring that connections are made for their local data usage. At the same time, the value of doing so within a global context should be recognized– both for how these data can inform global assessments, like the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14.3, and for how global programs can give visibility to local voices. That is where we can make a real difference.”
Through a moderated panel discussion, presenters from Indigenous and Small Island Developing States backgrounds will explore how local partnerships between researchers and Indigenous communities can be supported within global coordination programs to build more resilient communities in the face of climate change as it relates to ocean acidification.
By informing global scientific assessments through local-scale research that is co-designed by both ocean scientists and communities, these collaborative adaptation strategies can better provide future scientific tools and programming to build more resilient communities worldwide.
The event, scheduled for 1:30-3 p.m. local time, was recorded and can be viewed here. To learn more about Dr. Newton and the Ocean Acidification Research for Sustainability programme within the UN Ocean Decade, click here.
The Marine Affairs Program at Dalhousie University, in partnership with the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at the University of Washington EarthLab, are hiring a Postdoctoral Research Fellow (PDRF) for a project aiming to evaluate economic security outcomes of public social safety measures in coastal and fishing communities and explore what policy solutions would best support marginalized and under-served populations of the seafood sector. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis by January 31, 2022.
A website is often the first impression of an organization, especially in our increasingly digital (and virtual) world.
Along with the College of the Environment marketing and communications team, EarthLab works with our member organizations to develop websites that will convey their mission and brand. We’re thrilled to present three new websites for Future Rivers, Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center & Washington Ocean Acidification Center (WOAC).
Ocean Nexus science director Edward H. Allison has published a new paper in Nature about river conservation by an Indigenous community.
Populations of river fish are threatened by pressures on land and water resources. Networks of reserves managed by Indigenous people at community level offer a way to conserve fish diversity and enhance yields of nearby fisheries.
Rivers are a major source of renewable water, and provide food, jobs and a sense of place and cultural identity for people living in the vicinity. For many Indigenous peoples, rivers are central to how they understand themselves, their origins and their relationships to the rest of nature. As a citizen of the Penobscot Nation in Maine put it1, “The river is us: the river is in our veins.” Writing in Nature, Koning et al.2 report ecological surveys that demonstrate how local Indigenous people in the Salween River basin on the border between Thailand and Myanmar have successfully managed the river for conservation purposes and to protect livelihoods.
Both biodiversity and the people in river-associated communities are under severe stress the world over. Across the globe, 30% of freshwater fish (see go.nature.com/3ixfd9l) are classified as being at risk (in either the critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable categories) in the 2020 Red List of threatened species compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Furthermore, it is projected3 that half the human population will live in water-insecure areas by 2050. Principal among the threats to rivers are pollution, climate change, invasive species, changes in surrounding land use, and the construction of dams and infrastructure that affect river flow. These issues need to be addressed on scales ranging from local to global, and solutions should draw on the knowledge, practices and aspirations of those whose lives are most closely entwined with river health.
Koning et al. assessed the outcome of a network of small fishery no-take reserves (areas where fishing is not allowed), and found that there was an average 27% rise in species richness, 124% higher fish density and 2,247% higher fish biomass in the reserve-associated waters compared with the corresponding values for nearby areas open to fishing. The presence of larger species and more individuals in the reserves is what drives the much higher biomass there. The authors suggest that such networks of locally managed, small, protected river areas could be used in other river systems to enhance fisheries and to conserve biodiversity.
The authors’ work highlights the importance of inland waters to food and livelihood systems, demonstrates the value of community-led conservation, and points out commonalities between protected-area conservation strategies in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Marine-protected areas, which are usually created by governments, are used widely in ocean conservation and fisheries, but much less commonly in fresh waters4. The authors characterize the reserves studied as being created by the S’gaw Karen (also known as Pwak’nyaw) Indigenous people who live in the river catchment areas. The paper thus also supports the growing recognition5 among scientists and conservationists of the effectiveness of Indigenous resource-management practices.
Koning and colleagues’ study draws on natural sciences — limnology (the freshwater equivalent of oceanography) and fish ecology — but also discusses how river management operates at a community level. Their natural-sciences disciplinary lens allows them to rigorously evaluate the benefits that protected areas confer on fish conservation and on the sustainability of local fish catches. In the area studied, Indigenous communities had planned and implemented local no-take reserves that complement other community-based conservation initiatives, including the management of adjacent land.
However, the context in which this management system evolved, the knowledge and politics involved in its creation, and how local forms of knowledge and practice can be supported and valued are less in focus in Koning and colleagues’ study. Pwak’nyaw communities have been profoundly transformed as a result of colonization in Myanmar, the arrival of foreign missionaries in Myanmar and Thailand, and state modernization projects in both countries. Supporting river conservation here and elsewhere at locations where other Indigenous peoples live will require a reckoning with such legacies and a willingness to make space for local and Indigenous voices to be heard, alongside those of scientists, in river-basin planning.
One of us (V.C.) is a Pwak’nyaw person, born in Hpa’an, Myanmar, on the banks of the Salween River, and believes that it is crucial that science conducted in Indigenous territory incorporates Indigenous systems of knowledge and beliefs, and for Indigenous people to have ownership over data that involve them. Although, during a period of 8 years of research, Koning et al. worked with local people for more than 18 months when living in the study area, there is scope for furthering these relationships so that Indigenous perspectives have increased visibility. An absence of Indigenous agency and control in the production of knowledge is a key issue, leading to calls for Indigenous data sovereignty and the decolonization of science6.
Koning and colleagues’ study positively recognizes Pwak’nyaw involvement in conservation, and includes some cultural context, although Pwak’nyaw perspectives are lacking. One consequence of this might be the study’s focus on what the Pwak’nyaw would regard as only part of their integrated system of land and water management. For example, Pwak’nyaw don’t commonly identify themselves by categories that are familiar to those in Western culture, such as being a farmer or a fisher. Rather, rotational farming, growing rice, gardening, hunting, gathering and fishing are integrated parts of a Pwak’nyaw livelihood.
Community-based research on Pwak’nyaw livelihoods in northern Thailand has found that fish conservation is also integrated into rotational farming practices. For instance, the concept nya pla htau, meaning fish surface, prohibits the clearing of a field on adjacent sides of a river bank in successive years to conserve fish-breeding grounds, and knowledge about fish is a factor in the selection of farmland7. In this sense, farming cannot be separated from fishing, which cannot be separated from conservation, because they are all part of a whole — and it is beneficial for them to be studied as such.
Future studies, which should involve collaboration with Indigenous researchers, could adopt approaches to integrate Indigenous and scientific knowledge and Indigenous and Western legal and management approaches in ways that recognize and draw on both8. This would help to address some of the unanswered questions in Koning and colleagues’ valuable study on the origins, sustainability and future of this successful network of reserves.
Conflict can arise in Thailand and elsewhere when there is confrontation between Indigenous people and the state, or other groups, regarding competing conservation models. Indigenous lives are in danger — around the world in 2019, more than 200 environmental activists died, 40% of whom were Indigenous people (see go.nature.com/36w68di). In the past decade, the deaths of prominent Pwak’nyaw environmental activists in Myanmar (see go.nature.com/2vspujn) and in Thailand (see go.nature.com/3mwjqm1) have hit the headlines.
Indigenous resource-management systems can persist despite difficult circumstances. On the Myanmar side of the Salween River, Pwak’nyaw communities, whose livelihoods are affected by ongoing civil war, displacement and militarized development, have created a large-scale conservation project named the Salween Peace Park (Fig. 1), based on kaw (country), a holistic concept that encompasses the localized practice of social and environmental governance, based on Indigenous sovereignty. Pwak’nyaw living there conserve the environment using Indigenous knowledge (see go.nature.com/36tigxg), and are working to revive Indigenous practices lost through decades of conflict.
Without such contextual cultural and political knowledge, it is difficult to say how easily the successes in the Salween River basin, convincingly enumerated by Koning and colleagues’ study, can be achieved elsewhere by trying to transfer this approach. The key insight here may be that the small reserves are potentially useful conservation measures that need to be understood from the perspectives of those who created them. Such reserves should be supported and legitimized where they exist, revived where they existed previously, and perhaps tried out where they haven’t been used before, as part of efforts to meet global river-conservation challenges. This would support a growing movement led by Indigenous peoples to focus on putting rivers at the centre of conservation efforts — including by assigning legal personhood to rivers, as part of a ‘rights of nature’ approach to environmental governance9.