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The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

It has been a long four years for those in the environmental field here in the US four years filled with rampant attempts by the Trump administration to remove, weaken, or circumvent environmental protections; promotion of climate science denialism; and obstruction of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This amplified the relentless, global march of climate change and its associated natural disasters and was all topped off by a worldwide pandemic and recession.

The incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris promises a significant shift in policies in many areas, including ocean management – but what exactly needs to be done and how likely are changes to occur? We hear from eight US ocean policy experts about what they expect and/or hope for in terms of US ocean management under the incoming Biden-Harris administration.

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

By Erik Thulin and Rocky Sanchez Tirona, Rare

Editor’s note: Erik Thulin is the behavioral science lead for the Center for Behavior & the Environment at Rare. Rocky Sanchez Tirona is the vice president of Rare Philippines and the Pacific Islands. They can be contacted on LinkedIn here and here respectively and on Twitter @EThulin and @Rare_org respectively.

The environmental field is full of cooperative dilemmas: in other words, what is best for the individual is different than what is best for the group. This creates a clash in priorities and sometimes results in ecosystem collapse. At Rare’s Center for Behavior & the Environment, we believe that these behavioral challenges require behavioral solutions. 

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management
The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

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.


The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Editor’s note: Emma McKinley is a research fellow at Cardiff University in Wales in the United Kingdom. Her work explores the relationships between society and the ocean, and focuses on concepts around ocean literacy, marine citizenship, and public perceptions and attitudes towards marine and coastal systems. Her most recent projects have explored the relationship between ocean literacy and behavior change and coastal community adaptation to climate change in Ireland and Wales. Emma is the founder and chair of the Marine Social Science Network and can be contacted at mckinleye1 [at] or info [at] as well as on Twitter @EmmaJMcKinley.

Skimmer: What is the Marine Social Science Network, and how did it get started?

McKinley: The Marine Social Science Network (MarSocSci) started from some informal conversations with colleagues in the UK. These conversations led to a stakeholder workshop in January 2018 that explored whether there was need and scope for a network or community of marine social scientists, initially in the UK, and what this might look like. There was an over-riding sentiment from those of us working within marine social sciences that we felt a bit isolated and that the community was more fragmented than other areas of marine sciences.

At the workshop, we quickly agreed that there was a need for a community or platform for marine social science researchers and practitioners, and that, crucially, this should be an international and interdisciplinary network. And so MarSocSci was born! We started off small with a Twitter profile in May 2018, and then launched officially at the Society and the Sea conference in London, September 2018.

Since then, it feels like the momentum has just continued, and we now have over 600 people signed up to the newsletter and over 3000 following us through social media. Our Committee has also grown, and we now have an amazing team behind MarSocSci, all working voluntarily to support and grow the Network.

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management
The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

By Stephanie Wear of The Nature Conservancy

Editor’s note: Stephanie Wear is a senior scientist and strategy advisor at The Nature Conservancy. She is also a visiting scientist at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability and the Duke University Marine Lab. She can be contacted by email at swear [at], on Instagram at oceansewage, and on Twitter @stephwear.

While most of us can recite the top three threats to ocean health (i.e., climate change, overfishing, and pollution), there is a notable disparity in how we allocate our precious time and resources to addressing these three threats. I have worked in marine conservation for over two decades. And what I have seen is that we are doing a lot to address overfishing and a lot to address the impacts of climate change (ranging from tried and true strategies to the novel and perhaps even a little crazy. Desperate times…) However, much less is happening in the non-plastic pollution space. To see if my observations held more broadly, in 2016, I surveyed hundreds of marine resource managers (mostly focused on coral reefs) to see what their big problems are and what they are doing to address them. The results confirmed my personal observations – coastal pollution is a big problem … but very little attention is given to it. Survey respondents cited a lot of valid reasons given for this, none of which will surprise you. They include lack of government mandates, other priorities for funders and stakeholders, and politics. (You can read the full survey findings here.)

MPA News

The more fish an ecosystem contains, the more carbon is being captured and stored there. In this sense, MPAs could be viewed as an important management option for conserving and enhancing fish carbon services. Theoretically the financial value of well-managed ‘fish carbon’ could even be harnessed to support MPAs. Is there some way we can make this idea of fish carbon actually work as an MPA financing tool? We speak with several experts about the possibilities.