Transformations towards sustainability are needed to address many of the earth’s profound environmental and social challenges. Yet, actions taken to deliberately shift social–ecological systems towards more sustainable trajectories can have substantial social impacts and exclude people from decision-making processes. The concept of just transformations makes explicit a need to consider social justice in the process of shifting towards sustainability. In this paper, we draw on the transformations, just transitions, and social justice literature to advance a pragmatic framing of just transformations that includes recognitional, procedural and distributional considerations. Decision-making processes to guide just transformations need to consider these three factors before, during and after the transformation period. We offer practical and methodological guidance to help navigate just transformations in environmental management and sustainability policies and practice. The framing of just transformations put forward here might be used to inform decision making in numerous marine and terrestrial ecosystems, in rural and urban environments, and at various scales from local to global. We argue that sustainability transformations cannot be considered a success unless social justice is a central concern.
Food for Thought
Ocean Literacy (OL) has multiple aspects or dimensions: from knowledge about how the oceans work and our impact on them, to attitudes toward topics such as sustainable fisheries, and our behaviour as consumers, tourists, policy makers, fishermen, etc. The myriad ways in which individuals, society and the oceans interact result in complex dynamic systems, composed of multiple interlinked chains of cause and effect. To influence our understanding of these systems, and thereby increase our OL, means to increase our knowledge of our own and others’ place and role in the web of interactions. Systems Thinking has a potentially important role to play in helping us to understand, explain and manage problems in the human-ocean relationship. Leaders in the OL field have recommended taking a systems approach in order to deal with the complexity of the human-ocean relationship. They contend that the inclusion of modelling and simulation will improve the effectiveness of educational initiatives. In this paper we describe a pilot study centred on a browser-based Simulation-Based Learning Environment (SBLE) designed for a general audience that uses System Dynamics simulation to introduce and reinforce systems-based OL learning. It uses a storytelling approach, by explaining the dynamics of coastal tourism through a System Dynamics model revealed in stages, supported by fact panels, pictures, simulation-based tasks, causal loop diagrams and quiz questions. Participants in the pilot study were mainly postgraduate students. A facilitator was available to participants at all times, as needed. The model is based on a freely available normalised coastal tourism model by Hartmut Bossel, converted to XMILE format. Through the identification and use of systems archetypes and general systems features such as feedback loops, we also tested for the acquisition of transferable skills and the ability to identify, apply or create sustainable solutions. Levels of OL were measured before and after interaction with the tool using pre- and post-survey questionnaires and interviews. Results showed moderate to very large positive effects on all the OL dimensions, which are also shown to be associated with predictors of behaviour change. These results provide motivation for further research.
The study of ancient DNA (aDNA) from sediments (sedaDNA) offers great potential for paleoclimate interpretation, and has recently been applied as a tool to characterise past marine life and environments from deep ocean sediments over geological timescales. Using sedaDNA, palaeo-communities have been detected, including prokaryotes and eukaryotes that do not fossilise, thereby revolutionising the scope of marine micropalaeontological research. However, many studies to date have not reported on the measures taken to prove the authenticity of sedaDNA-derived data from which conclusions are drawn. aDNA is highly fragmented and degraded and extremely sensitive to contamination by non-target environmental DNA. Contamination risks are particularly high on research vessels, drilling ships and platforms, where logistics and facilities do not yet allow for sterile sediment coring, and due consideration needs to be given to sample processing and analysis following aDNA guidelines. This review clarifies the use of aDNA terminology, discusses common pitfalls and highlights the urgency behind adopting new standards for marine sedaDNA research, with a focus on sampling optimisation to facilitate the incorporation of routine sedaDNA research into International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) operations. Currently available installations aboard drilling ships and platforms are reviewed, improvements suggested, analytical approaches detailed, and the controls and documentation necessary to support the authenticity of aDNA retrieved from deep-sea sediment cores is outlined. Beyond practical considerations, concepts relevant to the study of past marine biodiversity based on sedaDNA, and the applicability of the new guidelines to the study of other contamination-susceptible environments (permafrost and outer space) are discussed.
The vaquita (Phocoena sinus) is the world's smallest cetacean and most endangered marine mammal. The species is under threat from illegal fishing activities that take place in the upper Gulf of California (UGC). Artisanal use of gillnets to catch shrimp and poach the endangered totoaba are the primary drivers of vaquita population declines due to bycatch. About 80% of shrimp caught in the UGC is sold to the United States, meaning Americans who consume shrimp may have a direct connection to the plight of the critically endangered vaquita. However, this issue as part of the human dimensions of vaquita conservation has been largely unstudied. Additionally, the majority of Americans are unfamiliar with the vaquita which hinders conservation efforts. This article calls for further research into the human dimensions of vaquita conservation, increased collaboration with fishing communities in the UGC, and connecting seafood sellers and consumers with the vaquita crisis.
In 2004, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly approved a Regular Process to report on the environmental, economic and social aspects of the world’s ocean. The Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects produced the first global integrated assessment of the marine environment in December 2016 (known as the first World Ocean Assessment). The second assessment, to be delivered in December 2020, will build on the baselines included in the first assessment, with a focus on establishing trends in the marine environment with relevance to global reporting needs such as those associated with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Central to the assessment process and its outputs are two components. First, is the utilization of ocean observation and monitoring outputs and research to temporally assess physical, chemical, biological, social, economic and cultural components of coastal and marine environments to establish their current state, impacts currently affecting coastal and marine environments, responses to those impacts and associated ongoing trends. Second, is the knowledge brokering of ocean observations and associated research to provide key information that can be utilized and applied to address management and policy needs at local, regional and global scales. Through identifying both knowledge gaps and capacity needs, the assessment process also provides direction to policy makers for the future development and deployment of sustained observation systems that are required for enhancing knowledge and supporting national aspirations associated with the sustainable development of coastal and marine ecosystems. Input from the ocean observation community, managers and policy makers is critical for ensuring that the vital information required for supporting the science policy interface objectives of the Regular Process is included in the assessment. This community white paper discusses developments in linking ocean observations and science with policy achieved as part of the assessment process, and those required for providing strategic linkages into the future.
The oceans play a key role in global issues such as climate change, food security, and human health. Given their vast dimensions and internal complexity, efficient monitoring and predicting of the planet’s ocean must be a collaborative effort of both regional and global scale. A first and foremost requirement for such collaborative ocean observing is the need to follow well-defined and reproducible methods across activities: from strategies for structuring observing systems, sensor deployment and usage, and the generation of data and information products, to ethical and governance aspects when executing ocean observing. To meet the urgent, planet-wide challenges we face, methods across all aspects of ocean observing should be broadly adopted by the ocean community and, where appropriate, should evolve into “Ocean Best Practices.” While many groups have created best practices, they are scattered across the Web or buried in local repositories and many have yet to be digitized. To reduce this fragmentation, we introduce a new open access, permanent, digital repository of best practices documentation (oceanbestpractices.org) that is part of the Ocean Best Practices System (OBPS). The new OBPS provides an opportunity space for the centralized and coordinated improvement of ocean observing methods. The OBPS repository employs user-friendly software to significantly improve discovery and access to methods. The software includes advanced semantic technologies for search capabilities to enhance repository operations. In addition to the repository, the OBPS also includes a peer reviewed journal research topic, a forum for community discussion and a training activity for use of best practices. Together, these components serve to realize a core objective of the OBPS, which is to enable the ocean community to create superior methods for every activity in ocean observing from research to operations to applications that are agreed upon and broadly adopted across communities. Using selected ocean observing examples, we show how the OBPS supports this objective. This paper lays out a future vision of ocean best practices and how OBPS will contribute to improving ocean observing in the decade to come.
- Climate change is impacting marine ecosystems and their goods and services in diverse ways, which can directly hinder our ability to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set out under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- Through expert elicitation and a literature review, we find that most climate change effects have a wide variety of negative consequences across marine ecosystem services, though most studies have highlighted impacts from warming and consequences of marine species.
- Climate change is expected to negatively influence marine ecosystem services through global stressors—such as ocean warming and acidification—but also by amplifying local and regional stressors such as freshwater runoff and pollution load.
- Experts indicated that all SDGs would be overwhelmingly negatively affected by these climate impacts on marine ecosystem services, with eliminating hunger being among the most directly negatively affected SDG.
- Despite these challenges, the SDGs aiming to transform our consumption and production practices and develop clean energy systems are found to be least affected by marine climate impacts. These findings represent a strategic point of entry for countries to achieve sustainable development, given that these two goals are relatively robust to climate impacts and that they are important pre‐requisite for other SDGs.
- Our results suggest that climate change impacts on marine ecosystems are set to make the SDGs a moving target travelling away from us. Effective and urgent action towards sustainable development, including mitigating and adapting to climate impacts on marine systems are important to achieve the SDGs, but the longer this action stalls the more distant these goals will become.
Climate change, mismanaged resource extraction, and pollution are reshaping global marine ecosystems with direct consequences on human societies. Sustainable ocean development requires knowledge and data across disciplines, scales and knowledge types. Although several disciplines are generating large amounts of data on marine socio-ecological systems, such information is often underutilized due to fragmentation across institutions or stakeholders, limited standardization across scale, time or disciplines, and the fact that information is often not searchable within existing databases. Compiling metadata, the information which describes existing sets of data, is an effective tool that can address these challenges, particularly when metadata corresponding to multiple datasets can be combined to integrate, organize and classify multidisciplinary data. Here, using Mexico as a case study, we describe the compilation and analysis of a metadatabase of ocean knowledge that aims to improve access to information, facilitate multidisciplinary data sharing and integration, and foster collaboration among stakeholders. We also evaluate the knowledge trends and gaps for informing ocean management. Analysis of the metadatabase highlights that past and current research in Mexico focuses strongly on ecology and fisheries, with biological data more consistent over time and space compared to data on human dimensions. Regional imbalances in available information were also evident, with most available information corresponding to the Gulf of California, Campeche Bank and Caribbean and less available for the central and south Pacific and the western Gulf of Mexico. Despite existing knowledge gaps in Mexico and elsewhere, we argue that systematic efforts such as this can often reveal an abundance of information for decision-makers to develop policies that meet key commitments on ocean sustainability. Surmounting current cross-scale social and ecological challenges for sustainability requires transdisciplinary approaches. Metadatabases are critical tools to make efficient use of existing data, highlight and address strengths and deficiencies, and develop scenarios to inform policies for managing complex marine social-ecological systems.
Restricting human activities through Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is assumed to create more resilient biological communities with a greater capacity to resist and recover following climate events. Here we review the evidence linking protection from local pressures (e.g., fishing and habitat destruction) with increased resilience. Despite strong theoretical underpinnings, studies have only rarely attributed resilience responses to the recovery of food webs and habitats, and increases in the diversity of communities and populations. When detected, resistance to ocean warming and recovery after extreme events in MPAs have small effect sizes against a backdrop of natural variability. By contrast, large die-offs are well described from MPAs following climate stress events. This may be in part because protection from one set of pressures or drivers (such as fishing) can select for species that are highly sensitive to others (such as warming), creating a ‘Protection Paradox’. Given that climate change is overwhelming the resilience capacity of marine ecosystems, the only primary solution is to reduce carbon emissions. High-quality monitoring data in both space and time can also identify emergent resilience signals that do exist, in combination with adequate reference data to quantify the initial system state. This knowledge will allow networks of diverse protected areas to incorporate spatial refugiaagainst climate change, and identify resilient biological components of natural systems. Sufficient spatial replication further offers insurance against losses in any given MPA, and the possibility for many weak signals of resilience to accumulate.