Towards a sustainable and equitable blue economy

The global rush to develop the ‘blue economy’ risks harming both the marine environment and human wellbeing. Bold policies and actions are urgently needed. We identify five priorities to chart a course towards an environmentally sustainable and socially equitable blue economy.

Impacts of the changing ocean-sea ice system on the key forage fish Arctic cod (Boreogadus Saida) and subsistence fisheries in the Western Canadian Arctic: evaluating linked climate, ecosystem and economic (CEE) models.

This study synthesizes results from observations, laboratory experiments and models to showcase how the integration of scientific methods and indigenous knowledge can improve our understanding of (a) past and projected changes in environmental conditions and marine species; (b) their effects on social and ecological systems in the respective communities; and (c) support management and planning tools for climate change adaptation and mitigation. The study links climate-ecosystem-economic (CEE) models and discusses uncertainties within those tools. The example focuses on the key forage species in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Western Canadian Arctic), i.e., Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida). Arctic cod can be trophically linked to sea-ice algae and pelagic primary producers and are key vectors for energy transfers from plankton to higher trophic levels (e.g., ringed seals, beluga), which are harvested by Inuit peoples. Fundamental changes in ice and ocean conditions in the region affect the marine ecosystem and fish habitat. Model simulations suggest increasing trends in oceanic phytoplankton and sea-ice algae with high interannual variability. The latter might be linked to interannual variations in Arctic cod abundance and mask trends in observations. CEE simulations incorporating physiological temperature limits data for the distribution of Arctic cod, result in an estimated 17% decrease in Arctic cod populations by the end of the century (high emission scenario), but suggest increases in abundance for other Arctic and sub-Arctic species. The Arctic cod decrease is largely caused by increased temperatures and constraints in northward migration, and could directly impact key subsistence species. Responses to acidification are still highly uncertain, but sensitivity simulations suggests an additional 1% decrease in Arctic cod populations due to pH impacts on growth and survival. Uncertainties remain with respect to detailed future changes, but general results are likely correct and in line with results from other approaches. To reduce uncertainties, higher resolution models with improved parameterizations and better understanding of the species’ physiological limits are required. Arctic communities should be directly involved, receive tools and training to conduct local, unified research and food chain monitoring while decisions regarding commercial fisheries will need to be precautionary and adaptive in light of the existing uncertainties.

Benefits of the Paris Agreement to ocean life, economies, and people

The Paris Agreement aims to mitigate the potential impacts of climate change on ecological and social systems. Using an ensemble of climate-marine ecosystem and economic models, we explore the effects of implementing the Agreement on fish, fishers, and seafood consumers worldwide. We find that implementing the Agreement could protect millions of metric tons in annual worldwide catch of top revenue-generating fish species, as well as billions of dollars annually of fishers’ revenues, seafood workers’ income, and household seafood expenditure. Further, our analysis predicts that 75% of maritime countries would benefit from this protection, and that ~90% of this protected catch would occur within the territorial waters of developing countries. Thus, implementing the Paris Agreement could prove to be crucial for the future of the world’s ocean ecosystems and economies.

Projected amplification of food web bioaccumulation of MeHg and PCBs under climate change in the Northeastern Pacific

Climate change increases exposure and bioaccumulation of pollutants in marine organisms, posing substantial ecophysiological and ecotoxicological risks. Here, we applied a trophodynamic ecosystem model to examine the bioaccumulation of organic mercury (MeHg) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in a Northeastern Pacific marine food web under climate change. We found largely heterogeneous sensitivity in climate-pollution impacts between chemicals and trophic groups. Concentration of MeHg and PCBs in top predators, including resident killer whales, is projected to be amplified by 8 and 3%, respectively, by 2100 under a high carbon emission scenario (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5) relative to a no-climate change control scenario.

A fuzzy logic expert system for evaluating policy progress towards sustainability goals.

Evaluating progress towards environmental sustainability goals can be difficult due to a lack of measurable benchmarks and insufficient or uncertain data. Marine settings are particularly challenging, as stakeholders and objectives tend to be less well defined and ecosystem components have high natural variability and are difficult to observe directly. Fuzzy logic expert systems are useful analytical frameworks to evaluate such systems, and we develop such a model here to formally evaluate progress towards sustainability targets based on diverse sets of indicators. Evaluation criteria include recent (since policy enactment) and historical (from earliest known state) change, type of indicators (state, benefit, pressure, response), time span and spatial scope, and the suitability of an indicator in reflecting progress toward a specific objective. A key aspect of the framework is that all assumptions are transparent and modifiable to fit different social and ecological contexts. We test the method by evaluating progress towards four Aichi Biodiversity Targets in Canadian oceans, including quantitative progress scores, information gaps, and the sensitivity of results to model and data assumptions. For Canadian marine systems, national protection plans and biodiversity awareness show good progress, but species and ecosystem states overall do not show strong improvement. Well-defined goals are vital for successful policy implementation, as ambiguity allows for conflicting potential indicators, which in natural systems increases uncertainty in progress evaluations. Importantly, our framework can be easily adapted to assess progress towards policy goals with different themes, globally or in specific regions.

Adaptation strategies to climate change in marine systems

The world’s oceans are highly impacted by climate change and other human pressures, with significant implications for marine ecosystems and the livelihoods that they support. Adaptation for both natural and human systems is increasingly important as a coping strategy due to the rate and scale of ongoing and potential future change. Here, we conduct a review of literature concerning specific case studies of adaptation in marine systems, and discuss associated characteristics and influencing factors, including drivers, strategy, timeline, costs, and limitations. We found ample evidence in the literature that shows that marine species are adapting to climate change through shifting distributions and timing of biological events, while evidence for adaptation through evolutionary processes is limited. For human systems, existing studies focus on frameworks and principles of adaptation planning, but examples of implemented adaptation actions and evaluation of outcomes are scarce. These findings highlight potentially useful strategies given specific social–ecological contexts, as well as key barriers and specific information gaps requiring further research and actions.

A rapid assessment of co-benefits and trade-offs among Sustainable Development Goals.

Achieving the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) results in many ecological, social, and economic consequences that are inter-related. Understanding relationships between sustainability goals and determining their interactions can help prioritize effective and efficient policy options. This paper presents a framework that integrates existing knowledge from literature and expert opinions to rapidly assess the relationships between one SDG goal and another. Specifically, given the important role of the oceans in the world’s social-ecological systems, this study focuses on how SDG 14 (Life Below Water), and the targets within that goal, contributes to other SDG goals. This framework differentiates relationships based on compatibility (co-benefit, trade-off, neutral), the optional nature of achieving one goal in attaining another, and whether these relationships are context dependent. The results from applying this framework indicate that oceans SDG targets are related to all other SDG goals, with two ocean targets (of seven in total) most related across all other SDG goals. Firstly, the ocean SDG target to increase economic benefits to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and least developed countries for sustainable marine uses has positive relationships across all SDGs. Secondly, the ocean SDG target to eliminate overfishing, illegal and destructive fishing practices is a necessary pre-condition for achieving the largest number of other SDG targets. This study highlights the importance of the oceans in achieving sustainable development. The rapid assessment framework can be applied to other SDGs to comprehensively map out the subset of targets that are also pivotal in achieving sustainable development.

Committing to socially responsible seafood.

Seafood is the world’s most internationally traded food commodity. Approximately three out of every seven people globally rely on seafood as a primary source of animal protein (1). Revelations about slavery and labor rights abuses in fisheries have sparked outrage and shifted the conversation (2, 3), placing social issues at the forefront of a sector that has spent decades working to improve environmental sustainability. In response, businesses are seeking to reduce unethical practices and reputational risks in their supply chains. Governments are formulating policy responses, and nonprofit and philanthropic organizations are deploying resources and expertise to address critical social issues. Yet the scientific community has not kept pace with concerns for social issues in the sector. As the United Nations Ocean Conference convenes in New York (5 to 9 June), we propose a framework for social responsibility and identify key steps the scientific community must take to inform policy and practice for this global challenge.

Towards an integrated database on Canadian ocean resources: benefits, current states, and research gaps.

Oceanic ecosystem services support a range of human benefits and Canada has extensive research networks producing growing datasets. We present a first effort to compile, link and harmonize available information to provide new perspectives on the status of Canadian ocean ecosystems and corresponding research. The metadata database currently includes 1,094 individual assessments and datasets from government (n=716), non-government (n=320), and academic sources (n=58), comprising research on marine species, natural drivers and resources, human activities, ecosystem services, and governance, with datasets spanning from 1979-2012 on average. Overall, research shows a strong prevalence towards single-species fishery studies, with an underrepresentation of economic and social aspects, and of the Arctic region in general. Nevertheless, the number of studies that are multi-species or ecosystem-based have increased since the 1960s. We present and discuss two illustrative case studies—marine protected area establishment in Canada, and herring resource use by the Heiltsuk First Nation—highlighting the use of multi-disciplinary datasets drawn from metadata records. Identifying knowledge gaps is key to achieving the comprehensive, accessible and interdisciplinary datasets and subsequent analyses necessary for new sustainability policies that meet both ecological and socioeconomic needs.

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