Coastal communities, indigenous peoples, and small-scale fishers rely on the ocean for livelihoods, for subsistence, for wellbeing and for cultural continuity. Thus, understanding the human dimensions of the world’s peopled seas and coasts is fundamental to evidence-based decision-making across marine policy realms, including marine conservation, marine spatial planning, fisheries management, the blue economy and climate adaptation. This perspective article contends that the marine social sciences must inform the pursuit of sustainable oceans. To this end, the article introduces this burgeoning field and briefly reviews the insights that social science can offer to guide ocean and coastal policy and management. The upcoming United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021–2030) provides a tremendous opportunity to build on the current interest, need for and momentum in the marine social sciences. We will be missing the boat if the marine social sciences do not form an integral and substantial part of the mandate and investments of this global ocean science for sustainability initiative.
The world’s oceans and coasts are awash in a sea of politics. The marine environment is increasingly busy, changing, and a site of degradation, marginalization, injustice, contestation and conflict over declining resources and occupied spaces at local to global scales. Themes of political ecology, such as power and politics, narratives and knowledge, scale and history, environmental justice and equity, are thus salient issues to understand in ocean and coastal governance and management. This subject review examines research on these themes of political ecology in the ocean and coastal environment and reflects on how the insights gained might be applied to governance and management. Political ecology provides important insights into: the influence of power in ocean management and governance processes; the manner in which narratives, knowledge, and scale are used to legitimize and shape policies and management efforts; the effects of historical trajectories on present circumstances, options, and practices; and the nature of inequities and environmental injustices that can occur in the marine environment. Moreover, ocean and coastal researchers, practitioners, and decision makers ought to engage with the political processes and injustices occurring in the ocean. Moving from critical insights to constructive engagements will ensure that political ecology helps to plant seeds of hope in the Anthropocene ocean.
The ocean is the next frontier for many conservation and development activities. Growth in marine protected areas, fisheries management, the blue economy, and marine spatial planning initiatives are occurring both within and beyond national jurisdictions. This mounting activity has coincided with increasing concerns about sustainability and international attention to ocean governance. Yet, despite growing concerns about exclusionary decision-making processes and social injustices, there remains inadequate attention to issues of social justice and inclusion in ocean science, management, governance and funding. In a rapidly changing and progressively busier ocean, we need to learn from past mistakes and identify ways to navigate a just and inclusive path towards sustainability. Proactive attention to inclusive decision-making and social justice is needed across key ocean policy realms including marine conservation, fisheries management, marine spatial planning, the blue economy, climate adaptation and global ocean governance for both ethical and instrumental reasons. This discussion paper aims to stimulate greater engagement with these critical topics. It is a call to action for ocean-focused researchers, policy-makers, managers, practitioners, and funders.
Access to marine resources and the ocean is important for the well-being of coastal populations.
In Canada, the ability of many coastal and Indigenous communities to access and benefit from the ocean is a growing issue. Access for coastal and Indigenous communities should be a priority consideration in all policies and decision-making processes related to fisheries and the ocean in Canada. Taking action now could reverse the current trend and ensure that coastal and Indigenous communities thrive in the future.
Access, defined as the ability to use and benefit from available marine resources or areas of the ocean or coast, is important for the well-being and sustainability of coastal communities. In Canada, access to marine resources and ocean spaces is a significant issue for many coastal and Indigenous communities due to intensifying activity and competition in the marine environment.