The Skimmer & MPA News

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Editor’s note: Jon Fisher is currently a conservation science officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts where he provides scientific expertise to inform and improve research projects and helps to increase the impact of scientific research. He was formerly a senior conservation scientist at The Nature Conservancy where he led and conducted research as a principal investigator and conducted internal theory of change work. He and co-authors recently published a paper “Improving scientific impact: how to practice science that influences environmental policy and management” in the journal Conservation Science and Practice. Fisher presented a webinar on this research to the OCTO networks (including the EBM Tools Network) in December 2019, and we highly recommend reading the paper and watching the webinar recording.

Skimmer: As you describe in your paper, a lot of scientific research that is intended to be applied isn’t ever used - because decision-makers are unaware of it, aren’t able to access it, don’t understand it, or don’t see it as relevant. Your recent paper outlines practical steps for improving the impact of science on decision making. Could you give us a summary of those steps?

Fisher: Sure, at a high level we recommend four steps:

  1. Identify and understand the audience (e.g., a decision-maker with whom you can partner)
  2. Clarify the need for evidence (i.e., how new information could lead to action)
  3. Gather "just enough" evidence (i.e., so there is enough rigor to be credible without missing key decision-making deadlines or wasting resources on gathering extraneous information)
  4. Share and discuss the evidence (i.e., help people learn about your results and motivate them to act on them).

These are guidelines rather than a strict recipe for success because there are many factors that determine the impact that research has. But following these steps improves the odds of research being influential. In fact, we ourselves have found that not following these steps in past projects has led to disappointing outcomes.

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Two recent articles we read really struck home about why it benefits EVERYONE to make marine conservation and management anti-racist and anti-colonial. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a American marine biologist, policy expert, and strategist; founder and CEO of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm for conservation solutions grounded in social justice; and founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities. In a Washington Post perspective piece “I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet”, she writes:

“[B]lack Americans are disproportionately more likely than whites to be concerned about — and affected by — the climate crisis. But the many manifestations of structural racism, mass incarceration and state violence mean environmental issues are only a few lines on a long tally of threats. How can we expect black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk on our streets, in our communities, and even within our own homes? How can people of color effectively lead their communities on climate solutions when faced with pervasive and life-shortening racism?

“If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing.”

Similarly Asha De Vos is a marine biologist and ocean educator from Sri Lanka. She is founder of Oceanswell and a National Geographic Explorer, Pew Fellow, and TED Fellow. In a Scientific American opinion piece “The Problem of ‘Colonial Science’”, she writes:

“Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the world shut down. I saw researchers and conservationists panicking that they could not get to their field sites across the world; that their multiyear data sets would have a gaping hole; and, finally, that if they had ensured that they trained local partners on the ground to do the work, then their data collection would have continued. Did it really take a pandemic for us to realize this?

“[Colonial science is] the conservation model where researchers from the developed world come to countries like mine, do research and leave without any investment in human capacity or infrastructure. It creates a dependency on external expertise and cripples local conservation efforts. The work is driven by the outsiders’ assumptions, motives and personal needs, leading to an unfavorable power imbalance between those from outside and those on the ground.”

MPA News

Last month, MPA News featured first-hand accounts from ten MPA practitioners worldwide on how the COVID-19 pandemic was already impacting their MPAs – from steep declines in tourism, to cuts in budgets and staffing, to increased poaching at some sites. The likelihood of a lasting global financial crisis, and uncertainties about the directions COVID-19 will take, threaten to prolong these and other challenges for the foreseeable future. If the MPA field does not prepare and adapt, it risks losing gains in protection that have been made to this point.

This month, we continue our coverage of the pandemic and financial crisis:

  1. Insights from Markus Knigge of Blue Action Fund on how the financial crisis could impact grants to MPAs
  2. Highlights from a June panel on MPAs and COVID-19, moderated by MPA News
  3. A list of additional resources, including guidance and grants
MPA News

Blue Action Fund supports the work of NGOs to conserve oceans and coastlines in the developing world, including via MPAs. Based in Germany, the Fund is a private foundation that receives its funding from the national governments of Germany, Sweden, and France. Its relatively unique position – with one foot in the foundation world, and one in the government world – gives it a valuable vantage point on trends in the philanthropic sector.

MPA News asked Markus Knigge, executive director of Blue Action Fund, for his views on how the coming financial crisis could impact grant funding for MPAs.

MPA News

On 2 June 2020, MPA News moderated an online panel discussion on the impacts of COVID-19 and the financial crisis on marine protection. The panel was part of a global, week-long, online conference for ocean action – the Virtual Ocean Dialogues, hosted by the World Economic Forum and Friends of Ocean Action.

The panel featured:

  • Nirmal Shah, Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles, an NGO that manages the Cousin Island Special Reserve, an MPA;
  • Marina Gomei, Regional Projects Manager for WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative; and
  • Susanna Fuller, Vice President (Operations and Projects) for Oceans North, an NGO that supports marine conservation in Arctic and Atlantic Canada in partnership with Indigenous and coastal communities.

MPA News has excerpted the panelists’ remarks here. Edits have been made for length and clarity.

MPA News

COVID‐19 and protected and conserved areas, PARKS, May 2020. Co-authored by 35 protected area practitioners, this essay suggests three potential scenarios for how the pandemic will impact protected areas and their role in society’s recovery:

  1. A return to normal;
  2. A global economic depression and decline in conservation; or
  3. A new and transformative relationship with nature – “the only sustainable pathway,” write the authors.
MPA News

By John Bohorquez

Sometimes you can find insight in surprising places. As a graduate student who studies marine conservation and protected areas, I admit I found myself asking after the murder of George Floyd, “How could my work possibly be more useless right now?” It’s difficult to stay focused when there are so many other issues afflicting the world. Even this year’s World Oceans Week often felt like an afterthought. 

But as this historic moment has developed, I have begun to see some parallels between my research in marine conservation and what disadvantaged communities in the US are protesting against just outside my door. How policing is conducted and how police are held accountable in each of these settings affects the wellbeing of all.

MPA News

By Catherine Piante

The PHAROS4MPAs project, coordinated by WWF over the past two years, has explored how Mediterranean MPAs are affected by several maritime sectors, and how the environmental impacts of those sectors can be prevented or minimized.

The sectors studied were maritime transport, offshore windfarms, cruises, leisure boating, small-scale commercial fisheries, recreational fisheries, and marine aquaculture. The project has released a set of practical recommendations – excerpted below – for MPA managers, maritime spatial planning (MSP) authorities, and businesses.

MPA News

Scientists invited to sign letter supporting 30x30 target for MPAs

Over 100 marine scientists have already signed a letter calling on the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to set a target to safeguard 30% of the ocean in a network of “highly or fully protected, well-managed MPAs and other effective area-based conservation measures” by 2030. The letter, coordinated by Marine Conservation Institute, remains open for more signatories as of this writing (mid-June 2020). To read the letter and add your signature, click here.

MPA News

With first-hand reports from ten MPA practitioners worldwide:

  • We must be laser-focused on actions to keep our institutions and work afloat, by Nirmal Jivan Shah
  • Adapting on the fly to staffing and program challenges, by Emma Doyle
  • MPA monitoring organization loses its volunteers and financial base, by Alan Kavanagh
  • Long-term financial management of Dutch Caribbean MPAs will need to change, by Kalli De Meyer
  • This is an opportunity for governments to help fishermen support MPAs, by Javier Corcuera Quiroga
  • Success of MPAs depends on support from stakeholders, whose priorities may be changing, by Özkan Anil
  • MPA that relies on yacht tourism revenue is optimistic for a rebound, by Joseph Ierna, Jr.
  • Conducting fish surveys during this quiet time to understand the impact of people on MPAs, by Ruthy Yahel and Simon Nemtzov
  • Partnering with law enforcement for increased patrols, by Claire Arre
  • This challenge is likely to be harder than any before, by Sibylle Riedmiller

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