MSEAS 2016 Anthony Charles: Integrating assessment and management across ocean uses, across scales

Including the human dimension in Integrated Ecosystem Assessments is the aim of MSEAS 2016 which took place last week, 30 May–3 June in Brest, France.
Published: 6 June 2016

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​As the diversity of ocean benefits are increasingly recognized and as ocean uses expand year after year, there is a growing recognition of the key challenges that face us: to maintain sustainability and to limit conflicts. During his keynote talk at MSEAS 2016, Anthony Charles, Director of the School of the Environment at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, addressed these challenges speaking about four guiding principles for achieving this: integration, scale, the human angle, and participation.

Every human on Earth receives benefits from the ocean. Many millions are directly involved in a broad range of ocean uses – a large fraction of those are fishing, with many others in economic sectors as varied as aquaculture, tourism, shipping and energy production. Then there are those who gain aesthetic and cultural benefits from the sea, including people in coastal communities with longstanding attachment to the ocean, artists drawing inspiration from the sea, and the biodiversity conservation sector working to improve the state of marine species. And ultimately, everyone on the planet benefits from the ocean, such as through its climate buffering attributes.

As we increasingly recognize this diversity of ocean benefits, and equally as ocean uses expand year after year, there is growing recognition of the key challenges facing us – to maintain sustainability and to limit conflicts. Accordingly, management initiatives need to not only deal with individual sectors, such as fisheries, but also with the totality of ocean uses and of ecosystem services. Decision-making about ocean uses must properly consider positive and negative interactions between these uses, conflicting values and objectives across economic sectors, and the 'cumulative effects' they collectively impose on marine ecosystems. Four guiding principles for achieving this revolve around integration, scale, the human angle, and participation.

We need to look at the ocean in a manner that includes a "multi" trio: multi-use, multi-sectoral, and multi-objective. We need to 'integrate' across uses, sectors and objectives, through 'integrated' ocean management. This integration can take place through the widely accepted approach of ecosystem-based management, placing marine ecosystems at centre stage, and at the same time including a range of human dimensions – socio-cultural, economic, political, institutional, and technological. Integration can also draw on the growing support for marine spatial planning as a tool to establish zoning that prescribes where in the ocean the many uses should best take place, to meet ecological and conflict-management goals.

Adding to the challenge of integrated ocean management decision-making is the fact that the interaction of ocean uses, and their impacts on ecosystems, occur at spatial scales ranging from the entire global ocean, to a national or sub-national scale, to small areas such as a single bay, or the ocean around a single coastal community. So we need multi-use, multi-sectoral, and multi-objective management at multiple organizational and spatial scales, from the global to the local. At each of these scales, integrated management and ecosystem-based management processes must cover multiple ocean use sectors, as well as multiple perspectives – social, ecological, economic and institutional aspects, within a sustainable development context.

The Human Angle
If oceans uses are to be managed effectively, for long-term sustainability, it is essential that the human side receives equal attention to the ecological side. This is true both for management and for assessment. It is important to better understand the various human dimensions involved – including the values held by ocean users and coastal communities, the range of corresponding objectives and motivations, and the benefits and costs, from social and economic perspectives, of the potential choices to be considered. Also crucial is to reconcile, at each relevant scale, the boundaries of ecosystems with those of human systems, notably political boundaries. These are unlikely to match up, and while ecosystem-based management calls for boundaries to be 'ecologically meaningful', there may also be demands to fit boundaries with political realities. The right compromise on boundaries is an essential ingredient for success.

As we seek an 'integrated' approach to management of human uses, the evidence shows that strong involvement of people – ocean user groups, coastal communities, nongovernmental organizations, and so on – is a crucial factor of success. A suitable participatory approach must be developed for consultation and decision-making, fitting with relevant values, scales and boundaries, and leading potentially to decentralized decision-making where appropriate. A participatory approach typically requires the creation of appropriate governance arrangements, and attention to ubiquitous social issues such as those relating to power and equity. Participation is also relevant to the collection and compilation of knowledge needed for effective management, such as through integrated ecosystem assessments.

The above ingredients, while not a comprehensive list, will be important to incorporate as we move forward to search for sustainable solutions to an increasingly busy multi-sectoral, multi-use, multi-objective marine world.


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MSEAS 2016 Anthony Charles: Integrating assessment and management across ocean uses, across scales

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