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Oceans of possibility

Research shows how management tools can meet sustainability goals


By Kelly Foss

Department of Geography research is giving some of the first guidance to decision-makers on how the United Nation’s sustainable development goal for the oceans might be achieved.

In a paper published on Dec. 14, Julie Reimer, a geography PhD candidate, outlines how common management tools can help Canada succeed in meeting ocean sustainability targets and that some targets for critical ocean issues, like reducing ocean pollution, aren’t likely to be met using our preferred tools.

“There’s a lot of momentum to get to this goal, and next year is also the start of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development,” she said. “But at the other end of that are managers and decision-makers who actually have to get us to these goals. They’re not going to be easy to reach and this paper was born out of the question: How do we do it?”

Seven common tools

Ms. Reimer began by looking at seven tools to better understand what role they actually play.

“Some of the tools manage resources and multiple activities in one space, while others manage just one activity in a space. We compared and contrasted the tools, making connections between them and the targets for sustainable oceans.”

“We give evidence to show single sector tools, or managing one use at a time, is not enough.” — Julie Reimer

Those targets include such things as protecting the oceans, restored and healthy ecosystems, sustainable fisheries and reducing the impacts of ocean acidification and marine pollution.

She looked for evidence of the social, economic and ecological outcomes of these tools in the scientific literature and asked experts for their views.

Once the evidence was compiled, she used a confidence assessment method to determine whether a tool could deliver on a particular outcome.

The researchers found that multi-sector tools, such as marine protected areas, hold the most potential for reaching ocean sustainability goals.
Photo: Submitted

“Ultimately, we determined that tools that regulate or manage more than one human activity in the same space – such as a marine protected area, which brings together sectors such as conservation, fisheries, shipping and sometimes oil and gas – hold the most potential to get us to these goals,” she said.

“While this is not a new concept and is something scientists have known for a long time, what’s exciting about this paper is that we give evidence to show single sector tools, or managing one use at a time, is not enough. They’re not going to get us to these goals.”

Big picture goals

In completing her study, Ms. Reimer says she was also able to determine that some of the targets are not likely to be met using the current tools in the ocean management toolbox.

The targets for ocean pollution and ocean acidification are bigger picture goals that need other pieces to come together, she says.

Julie Reimer’s research indicates that “It’s not enough to do one activity at a time.”
Photo: Submitted

“Reducing carbon emissions is needed to reduce the impacts of acidification. Ocean pollution is another problem that needs to be solved on land. Again, these aren’t new concepts, but we now have the evidence to say it with clarity.”

Social and economic impacts

She also notes that while the science is there to show the ecological impacts of various tools, there are major gaps in understanding the social and economic impacts.

“That’s a huge problem, because management tools ask someone, somewhere to change their behaviour, and we need to understand how the outcomes will affect them. If people can see the benefit to them, that’s what will make these tools effective in the end.”

Ms. Reimer hopes her paper tells a compelling story to government, ocean managers, scientists and conservation agencies and clearly provides evidence for the tools that hold the most potential to get Canada to its goals, if investments are made in the right places.

“We need to invest in multi-sector management tools,” she said. “It’s not enough to do one activity at a time. These are the things we need to do to have a world that is connected by the ocean in so many different ways that continues to function and that benefits everybody.”

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