A number of MEAM readers, EBM Tools Network members, and other marine conservation and management practitioners provided additional perspectives on how recent events are influencing their work. They also described ways they thought practitioners could sustain progress towards long-term solutions to ocean problems despite the limitations of short-term government mandates and budgets.


Brexit vote has led to considerable uncertainty over the future of marine management and science in UK waters

“A great example of a political change which is impacting marine management is the recent UK Brexit vote to leave the EU. Over time the EU has developed numerous directives and policies which affect the marine environment. Examples include the Birds and Habitats Directive which led to designation of Special Areas of Conservation, the Water Framework Directive which has led to improvements and monitoring of coastal waters, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) which requires states to monitor and demonstrate their waters are in Good Environmental Status, and the recent Marine Spatial Planning Directive which is encouraging states to move ahead with marine planning. In terms of the marine environment, it has been argued that the EU has been a positive force overall, and indeed one can argue that many of the improvements we have seen would never have happened at national level without the high-level threat of EU Court actions against individual states for infringement. Of course the EU is no panacea for marine environmental problems, and fisheries management under the Common Fisheries Policy has arguably been a less successful policy. However, the EU has recognized this and is attempting to implement reforms in this difficult management area.

“The Brexit vote has led to considerable uncertainty over the future of marine management and science in UK waters. It has been stated that current EU legislation will be enshrined into UK law under the Great Repeal Act, and indeed the main directives mentioned above are already transposed through measures such as the UK Marine and Coastal Access Act. There is a definite feeling among my colleagues, however, that implementation is likely to be weakened post-Brexit. While there is no suggestion at present that parts of this marine legislation will be repealed, this will become an option once the supremacy of EU law and the EU court is removed for the UK. Furthermore, the UK government will no longer have the threat of infraction proceedings hanging over it and in economically challenging times is likely to be tempted to opt for minimal implementation. Indeed, we are already seeing this with regard to developing marine monitoring for the MSFD where financial constraints are tending to dominate the process.

“In terms of what we can do about it, it is very much at a wait and see stage – apart from lobbying against any dilution of environmental controls, there is not much more we can do until there is a more clarity around how post-Brexit legislation will develop. Conservation organizations such as the UK Marine Conservation Society are of course watching the situation closely and have expressed similar concerns via their newsletter.”

—- Clive Fox of Scotland. These views represent Mr. Fox’s personal views and do not necessarily represent those of his employer, the Scottish Association for Marine Science.

Without assurance of continuing budgetary support, processes founder

“Many MEAM readers have encountered the mismatch between political timescales and timespans needed for marine management and research and already know how dysfunctional and damaging it is to our efforts to improve ocean conditions and human well-being. Human lives aren’t the only ones in play either. Long-lived species such as some black corals (lifespans of > 4,200 years), gold coral (lifespans of ~ 2,700 years), ocean quahog (Arctica islandica) (lifespans of up to 507 years), Greenland sharks (lifespans of up to 400 years), bowhead whales (lifespans of up to 200 years), and Laysan albatross (lifespans of > 60 years) also have personal stakes in our ability for long-term management.

“Political disagreements or shifts are the most common changes that hamstring long-term investigations or management, with climate change science being the most visible example both internationally and in the US. Those factors are less frequent at the international level, where processes take more time. Programs such as those led by the UN have been more successful at setting and sticking with large, long-term goals, including monitoring fish catches (FAO), climate (UNFCCC), biodiversity (CBD), and comprehensive programs such as the Millennium Development Goals and Sustainable Development Goals.

“That said, funding is rarely adequate to the tasks, so problems often grow faster than efforts to fix them. Translating ideas to research, research to policy, and policy to management takes money. Without assurance of continuing budgetary support, processes founder. Where support is relatively insulated from politics, it can thrive, such as in NSF’s Long Term Ecological Research Program. In contrast, many laboratories and agencies operate with support from sources whose funding cycles extend year-to-year or for only a few years at most.

“Non-governmental support can fill some budget holes, but not reliably. For example, non-profit organizations are relatively constant in their geographic and issue-oriented engagements but depend heavily on corporate or private philanthropy, which often responds to new mandates, interests, or the desire to create short-term impact rather than continuing to fund an ongoing long-term project. Departure of key workers owing to concern about future funding can compromise the success of an ongoing project.

“The Ocean Health Index (OHI) was created as a long-term planetary-scale indicator of how sustainably people are maximizing the tangible and intangible benefits available from the ocean to support well-being. Continuing support is essential to reach that long-term, but funding, while generous, has been time limited. Initial feasibility testing and early approaches to development were supported by small grants from foundations and non-profit organizations that were primarily engaged by the project’s freshness and originality, but less interested in long-term funding. A founding three-year grant from Trustee Beau Wrigley to Conservation International underwrote further development, but ended in 2011. The Index’s structure and methodology were completed during a 1.5-year workshop on ‘Ocean Health in the Context of Ecosystem Based Management’ hosted by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and funded by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation. Major support from the Pacific Life Foundation, the founding presenting sponsor of the Ocean Health Index, underwrote the project from 2012-2016, along with private grants to Conservation International and project-related grants to NCEAS. OHI will operate with such funding for coming years, but longer-term sources are needed to insulate this – and all such projects central to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals – from the types of challenges mentioned herein.

“In the meantime, recognizing that most actions capable of improving ocean health occur in jurisdictional areas, OHI focused on assisting nations to tailor the OHI framework for independent assessments of their own waters by substituting higher resolution regional data for global data when possible and by incorporating local values and contexts into the model. Approximately 25 nations have either completed or are in some stage of creating independent assessments, but because most nations do not have the tax-advantaged tradition of private philanthropy available in the US, they depend more on government support, and frequent changes in leadership make national and sub-national plans and budgets notoriously changeable. For example, changes of administration in Peru and Panama have delayed or derailed implementation of planned OHI projects. An ongoing OHI project in Ecuador is delayed by at least a year owing to changes in departmental organization; and funding for another in Korea was delayed by the presidential election.

“Politics and funding aren’t the only impediments to long-term management or research. We create some ourselves. For example, the rapid advance of science can itself work against long-term continuity, because new insights, research tools, and other emerging topics can be more attractive than continuing projects to those entering marine fields. Additionally, the human life cycle and career trajectory can undermine continuity, as individual researchers, politicians, managers, and others respond to changing demands of their own lives, families, and employers, as well as their personal desires for new experiences and advancement. Many will change fields, jobs, or projects even if adequate funding is available. Long-term projects need effective ways to survive those changes by capturing the knowledge, experience, and data gained by personnel who move on.

“The long-term initiatives needed to address large scale problems demand forthright acknowledgement of problems, constancy of effort to address them, willingness to use the best science and social science available, and flexibility to incorporate new knowledge through adaptive, dynamic management. Moreover, successive elected officials and managers – and society in general – must share those characteristics and recognize that maintaining ecological integrity is key to socio-economic sustainability. Rapid and dramatic political changes, such as the UK’s recent vote to leave the EU or the extraordinary results of the 2016 US presidential election create uncertainty at all levels of management and research, forming a challenging context for ongoing long-term initiatives.

“Earth and its people can only prosper if the ocean and its wild inhabitants also thrive. The marine science and management community do not alone have sufficient power to mitigate global driving forces or eliminate structural causes of the geographic and temporal mismatches that hamper progress. Anticipating them, forestalling them when possible, sheltering crucial projects from political divisiveness, building resilience into long-term initiatives at all levels, and developing more creative ways to work around obstacles is probably the best we can do. MEAM sounding the alarm on this urgent issue is an important step in the right direction, however.”

—- Steve Katona of Conservation International, Johanna Polsenberg of Conservation International, Ben Halpern of NCEAS, and Erich Pacheco of Conservation International

Public-private partnerships not subject to a grant’s expiry date or changes to government policies, personnel, or budgets

“Funds for marine management areas (MMAs) (including protected areas) managed by government agencies depend almost entirely on allocations made by governments from national budgets or official development aid. These arrangements are highly uncertain because they tend to vary with political cycles and available public sector financing.

Blue finance’s primary objective is to structure and manage a suite of impact investments in marine conservation biodiversity in three Caribbean countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, and St. Kitts and Nevis. Our main approach relies on long-term co-management agreements (10 – 15 years) to operate the MMAs with positive financial returns, as well as conservation and local social impacts. We are in the proof of concept stage, with some of the financing secured with impact investors and local investors.

“The MMA systems protect more than 70% of the critical coastal ecosystems of the islands (up to 100% in St. Kitts and Nevis). For efficient management, an MMA system requires important financial investments and human resources. A minimum permanent staff of 15 to 20 professionals is expected to conduct traditional activities of protected area management (i.e., soft enforcement, environmental actions, education, scientific monitoring, maintenance, and management). In addition, to become a partner of the economic development of the country, the staff shall also develop specific tourism products related to the biodiversity and enhance the visitor experience.

“Primary up-front investments will have to cover the purchase/restoration of visitor centers, vessels, vehicles, signage and underwater assets, equipment, water quality devices, multimedia technologies, and preliminary studies.

“Blue finance identified Public-Private Partnership (PPP) agreements as one of the preferred means of co-management of MMAs. The private sector is expected to provide the majority of the required funds to improve and manage the area and receive a return on investment via different sources. This approach will reduce the financial burden on the government and improve the entrepreneurial approach of the protected areas. The operator is expected to be a private company owned primarily by local stakeholders.

“The main advantages of PPPs include: their flexibility to set fees and charges, establish funding mechanisms such as concessions, respond to customer needs, their ability to retain the money they earn (which gives a resulting incentive to generate funds through greater entrepreneurship), and their freedom to implement staffing policies based on efficiency and market salaries. The government in turn will maintain its core functions and will be responsible for regulations of use and zonation, validation of the management plans of the protected areas, enforcement of regulation, monitoring of marine resources and water quality, and management of fishery resources.

“The Blue finance project therefore is aimed not only at providing sufficient finance for conservation but also to ensure that it is sustainable. The PPPs proposed are not subject to a grant’s expiry date or changes to government policies, personnel, or budgets. Sporadic funding for marine conservation does not make for effective management, as when switched off, there is a return to the negative impacts that management was supposed to reduce. We see this as an exciting step towards ensuring the sustainability of resources for MMAs, leading to improvements in the health of marine ecosystems and local livelihoods.”

—- Nicolas Pascal of the Blue finance Project

To learn how to piece together the datasets, we have to listen to their story

“Historical marine ecology helps us recognize the time scales and historical contingencies that shape what we see. We began our work at the Gulf of Maine Cod Project within Daniel Pauly's and Jeremy Jackson's shifting baseline paradigm, where the tendency to forget the past is an unconscious and innate characteristic of human behavior. But there are also institutional shifting baselines that permit the repetition of stale policies and the expenditure of vast amounts of money on things that have never worked long term. For example, in the 20th century Northwest Atlantic, Sebastes fasciatus has been called redfish, rosefish, and ocean perch. Its fisheries have collapsed twice before, and each time they started up again, the fish was renamed and treated like a new species.

“There are also technological shifting baselines that make us think that complex system processes can be overlooked just because we invented a new piece of equipment. Spotter planes and fish finders initially increase catch, but then exacerbate rates of decline, just as tub trawls did in the 19th century.

“And there are methodological shifting baselines when sensitive analyses require a do-over because data exhibit imperfections or discontinuities or collection methods change. For that reason, most data collected before 1980 is suspect, even though spatial resolution is generally as high or higher than that readily available to researchers today. 

“Add to this, requirements for data driven results from government or NGO funding. Researchers have about five years to prove the worth of an investment. Projects that may not gestate in that time are termed high risk, even though they may eventually yield valuable data or insights.

“All these things already impede the long-term research needed to address complex changes in the oceans. Unstable government policies make the situation worse. Soviet five-year agriculture plans were failures. Similar demands today from a host of institutional actors may skew or discourage research critical for addressing complex problems across a range of scales.

“From my perspective as a historical ecologist, we need to learn how to piece together the datasets we have, listen to their stories, and discover their internal workings and interactions. Complex adaptive systems theory is good for this. Once rates and scales have been determined, the data can be linked together to form a discontinuous and imperfect picture. Then we can ask what we think we want to know.”

—- Karen Alexander of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst