Will understanding the ocean lead to “the ocean we want”?
Researchers from IRD, the CNRS and Memorial University of Newfoundland (Canada) have assessed the capacity of the principal ocean management tools to achieve the “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans’ sustainable development goal (SDG). They have shown that certain multi-sectoral mechanisms, such as marine protected areas, are the most effective in reconciling the ecological, economic and social dimensions of this SDG. These results were published in the journal Nature Sustainability on 14 December 2020, and will make it possible to improve operational guidelines for the preservation of the oceans.
In 2015, the United Nations adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), calling on States to act on the environmental, social and economic aspects of development. SDG 14, “Life below water,” aims for the conservation and sustainable use the oceans, seas and marine resources. Through 7 targets, this objective addresses multiple challenges: reducing marine pollution, restoring marine ecosystems, reducing ocean acidification, allowing sustainable fisheries, conserving marine and coastal areas, ending harmful fisheries subsidies, and increasing the economic benefits of the sustainable use of marine resources for small island developing states and least developed countries.
To meet these challenges, decision-makers make use of spatial management tools that regulate uses in a given area. Some tools regulate the activities of a single sector, such as fishing or maritime traffic: this is the case of Gear Restricted Areas (GRAs), Fishing Closures (FCs), Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries (TURFs) and Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs). Other tools are multi-sectoral, such as marine Fully Protected Areas (FPAs), Partially Protected Areas (PPAs) and Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs).
Assessing the level of confidence in the evidence
In this study, the researchers looked at the proven effectiveness of these management tools in achieving the targets of SDG 14, in its ecological (increasing the size and abundance of marine organisms and species diversity, ecosystem resilience, etc.), and economic and social (equitable access to resources, improved income, maintenance of traditions and customs, etc.) dimensions.
To do this, they analyzed the scientific literature, favoring articles that provided an overview of previous studies (177 articles), and conducted surveys among 75 international experts specialized in the oceans. Following a similar approach to that of the expert group of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the researchers determined the ‘level of confidence’ in the tools’ capacity to produce certain results. They then developed a scoring system that linked spatial management tools to the targets of SDG 14, based on the relative contributions of results to the targets.
Five of the seven targets of SDG 14 are achievable
Using this methodology, the authors first found that the spatialised management tools they had evaluated had the potential to contribute to five of the seven targets of SDG 14: restoration of marine ecosystems, sustainable fisheries, conservation of maritime and coastal areas, reduction of harmful subsidies and increasing the income of small island developing states.
“Our results confirm the inability of the tools evaluated to effectively reduce marine pollution and the impacts of ocean acidification,” says Rodolphe Devillers, a Geographer at IRD who coordinated the study. “Solutions for these aspects will require a reduction in pollution from the earth and a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” adds Joachim Claudet, an ecologist at the CNRS and co-author of the study.
The scientists’ second finding is that some single-sector tools, such as GRAs and Fishing Closures (FCs), are useful in the sector they regulate, but not very effective for the other targets of SDG 14. On the other hand, multi-sectoral tools—such as Fully (FPA) and Partially Protected Areas (PPA), as well as Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMA)—are more likely to facilitate the achievement of a wide range of targets because of their proven ecological and socio-economic benefits.
For Rodolphe Devillers, “our results constitute a scientific contribution to the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which begins in 2021. They highlight the complexity of the problem and the need to change our management approaches to achieve all the targets of SDG 14.”
Furthermore, “holistic approaches to planning and management of the land-sea interface, such as integrated coastal zone management, are likely to be important for integrating land-based regulations in spatial management tools in order to achieve SDGs,” stresses Joachim Claudet.
Finally, the authors of the study point out that to attain their full potential, these tools must be designed with local needs in mind, be well managed and their regulations well enforced.