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Big exposure

Geographer publishes insightful ocean research in international journals


By Jeff Green

Countries around the world are facing considerable challenges as they develop a viable blue economy according to a paper recently published in the prestigious journal Nature.

Dr. Gerald Singh, assistant professor in the Department of Geography, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, is among a team of international researchers who co-authored the article examining the potential to develop a sustainable and equitable “blue economy” for the global oceans.

Dr. Gerald Singh
Dr. Gerald Singh
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

“The main finding of our study is that nations around the world differ in their ability to develop a sustainable and equitable blue economy more so by their social conditions — economic and political inequality, corruption, human rights — and infrastructure than by the resource availability that blue economies are based on,” Dr. Singh told the Gazette during an interview.

The study is a product of the Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center at EarthLab, University of Washington, with collaborators from the University of British Columbia, the University of New England, Dalhousie University and the Dalian Naval Academy.

“I hope this work can be used to inform national governments — such as the Canadian government — on how to plan for blue economy plans.” — Dr. Gerald Singh

Dr. Singh is a principal investigator and Deputy Science Director for the center, which is a 10-year, $32.5 million partnership between the Nippon Foundation and the University of Washington.

“While resource availability also varies between nations, what really limits our ability to develop sustainably and make sure society broadly benefits from development are the social and economic enabling conditions for equitable benefits, such as human rights, national stability, and freedom from corruption,” Dr. Singh explained.

“Even when resource potential is relatively low, nations can still develop sustainable and equitable blue economies given these enabling conditions are in place.”

Holistic approach

The World Bank describes the blue economy as the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health.”

Dr. Singh and his collaborators say policymakers must work with researchers and stakeholders to ensure the blue economy can deliver its social, environmental and economic goals.

The port in Dakar, Senegal.
The port in Dakar, Senegal.
Photo: Submitted

He says that’s critical for countries such as Canada – and provinces such as Newfoundland and Labrador – which has long depended on the ocean.

“I hope this work can be used to inform national governments — such as the Canadian government — on how to plan for blue economy plans,” Dr. Singh said.

“Traditionally government departments work in silos, and ocean and fisheries departments focus on specific extractive ocean industries. Our work pushes for governments to think more holistically and think about what social supports are in place for a Blue Economy to distribute benefits equitably and use resources sustainably.”

UN goals

The research complements the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 — Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The Nature article is followed up by another recently-published research by Dr. Singh.

“Researchers should be reaching out to work alongside policy-makers and stakeholders in their work.” — Dr. Gerald Singh

He collaborated with research partners and policy advisors in Aruba on the article, Aiding ocean development planning with SDG relationships in Small Island Developing States, published in Nature Sustainability.

That study focused on how various ocean development targets could interact with other broad sustainable development targets in Aruba.

“From there we determine the connections that can best benefit ocean development — that is, how development targets regarding poverty reduction, education, economic development, environmental, justice and others — influence ocean sustainable development,” Dr. Singh explained.

“Then we link existing Aruban government institutions to these development goals and evaluate how government institutions can work together to promote sustainable ocean development in the country.”

‘Novel research’

In February, Dr. Singh was also among a group of researchers from around the globe who published the opinion piece, Will Understanding the Ocean Lead to ‘The Ocean We Want’?, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The research in that article is tied to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-30).

Dr. Gerald Singh has published insightful ocean research in international journals.
Dr. Gerald Singh regularly publishs ocean research in international journals.
Photo: Submitted

Dr. Singh and his colleagues challenged science institutions to develop science programs focused on developing and evaluating initiatives aimed at benefitting ocean-dependent people, instead of just assuming that science geared at understanding biophysical ocean processes would ultimately benefit society.

“Just as policy-makers need to work with researchers to develop their blue economy policies, researchers should be reaching out to work alongside policy-makers and stakeholders in their work,” Dr. Singh said.

“This will help ensure that work researchers promise to be “policy-relevant” actually does inform policy, but can also provide a catalyst for developing really novel research.”

He says his work in Aruba was the most creative he’s ever done, drawing from expertise in marine ecology and environmental science, economics, public policy and social science.

“It was the first time anyone connected analyses of how the Sustainable Development Goals interact to a framework for facilitating governance restructuring and also the first time anyone adapted process models to understand direct and indirect consequences of achieving Sustainable Development Goals throughout society and their environment,” Dr. Singh pointed out.

“Real world problems often require more creativity than I can manifest just working in an academic setting and working with policy advisors can provide the necessary push for increased creativity.”

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