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.
Background: Conservation decisions not only impact wildlife, habitat, and environmental health, but also human wellbeing and social justice. The inclusion of safeguards and equity considerations in the conservation field has increasingly garnered attention in international policy processes and amongst conservation practitioners. Yet, what constitutes an ‘equitable’ solution can take many forms, and how the concept is treated within conservation research is not standardized. This review explores how social equity is conceptualized and assessed in conservation research.
Conservation and environmental management can produce both positive and negative social impacts for local communities and resource users. Thus it is necessary to understand and adaptively manage the social impacts of conservation over time. This will improve social outcomes, engender local support and increase the overall effectiveness of conservation.
Progress on spatial conservation efforts in marine environments is often summarized with the simplistic metric of extent. However, targets require a more nuanced view, where ecological effectiveness, biodiversity, representation, connectivity and ecosystem services must all be recognized. Furthermore, these targets must be achieved through equitable processes and produce equitable outcomes.