Background: Catarina Frazão Santos is a research scientist and lecturer at the University of Lisbon Marine and Environmental Sciences Center (MARE) and an invited researcher at NOVA-SBE Environmental Economics Knowledge Center. Her research focuses on marine spatial planning, sustainable ocean governance, and the vulnerability of marine social-ecological systems to human stressors. She is currently leading project OCEANPLAN and is the editor-in-chief of the new journal npj Ocean Sustainability. OCTO’s Chief Knowledge Broker Sarah Carr conducted this written interview with her in September 2021.

OCTO: Can you tell us a bit about the survey that project OCEANPLAN conducted this past year?

Frazão Santos: Since marine spatial planning (MSP) operates in a changing ocean, addressing and integrating climate effects is vital. Few marine spatial plans consider climate change properly or explicitly, however. To raise awareness and foster discussion about this important topic at an international level, we (project OCEANPLAN) conducted a global survey from July 2020 to March 2021. The goal of this survey was to understand how people around the world who are knowledgeable about MSP – scientists, marine planners, managers, decision-makers, industry professionals, non-governmental organization (NGO) professionals, interested members of the general public – view how MSP could be affected by and adapt to global climate change. The results of this survey are now being used to design a decision support document to help develop “climate-smart” ocean planning initiatives.

OCTO: What sort of responses did you receive?

Frazão Santos: We got 194 valid responses from at least 51 different countries/territories. (Several respondents did not want to identify their country of living, so it could be more!) We received the most responses from the US, Portugal, Spain, and Brazil – together representing about 42% of respondents – but we had people participating from all around the world including Ecuador, Fiji, Tonga, Maldives, Madagascar, Kenya, Qatar, Bangladesh, and India. A map showing where responses came from is below.

Most respondents (82%) had completed a masters or doctoral degree. People with a background in social sciences were less represented than natural ones though (13% versus 63%). The survey also went beyond the scientific community, and a significant number of decisionmakers from governments, government agencies, and local authorities (23% of respondents); NGOs (14% of respondents); and private consultants (6% of respondents) also participated. Most respondents were knowledgeable about MSP – almost half the respondents had 5-20 years of experience in MSP, and a few had over 20 years of experience. We are now analyzing the survey results and will be hosting an online workshop of experts to discuss them before publishing them.

OCTO: Did the respondents consider climate change a major challenge to MSP?

Frazão Santos: On a scale of 1 (climate change is not at all a major challenge) to 5 (climate change is very much a major challenge), the vast majority of respondents rated climate change a 5 (55%) or 4 (30%). Most of those who did not perceive climate change to be a major challenge explained that it was because there were more pressing issues for MSP such as ensuring environmental sustainability or overcoming realpolitik factors and institutional constraints. Some acknowledged that climate change is a challenge but also found it to be an opportunity (e.g., for additional funding and “doing MSP better”).

As for the “urgency” of developing climate-smart MSP, most respondents (over 80%) agreed that there is a “high urgency” for developing MSP initiatives that properly integrate the climate change dimension. It is notable, however, that policymakers, lawmakers, marine planners, and managers do not feel the same level of urgency as the scientific community. Almost half of respondents in the policy realm said that the urgency of the problem is largely ignored. Respondents provided numerous detailed suggestions for how to improve awareness of the urgent need to develop climate-smart MSP, ranging from illustrating the results of non-action to identifying good examples of climate change integration into MSP to improving science communication and outreach.

OCTO: What input did survey respondents have about pathways to integrating climate change into MSP?

Frazão Santos: We presented respondents with a number of tools/approaches to support the development of climate-smart MSP (e.g., anticipatory zoning, dynamic ocean management, and vulnerability and risk analyses) and asked them for an opinion on their relevance. All the tools/approaches received high relevance ratings with climate vulnerability and risk analyses, adaptive management and governance, and mapping and modeling tools receiving the highest ratings (see figure below). Participants also suggested additional approaches such as cost-benefit analyses, better outreach and communication to stakeholders, educational programs, and participatory mapping.

Real-world examples of climate-smart MSP are lacking, however. Only a third of survey respondents knew of actual examples of MSP initiatives addressing climate change, and many of the examples they cited (marine spatial plans and MSP research projects) only mention climate change as a challenge rather than having specific climate-related objectives and management actions. Nonetheless, respondents provided information about 70 examples of initiatives potentially addressing climate change, and these resources will be invaluable in the development of the decision-support document on climate-smart MSP that we will be producing in 2022.

OCTO: Finally, what did survey respondents have to say about whether MSP can contribute to climate adaptation and mitigation?

Frazão Santos: Almost all respondents (95%) believe MSP can contribute to minimizing climate-related impacts on the ocean. Some of the most popular reasons for how MSP can do this include providing an integrated, cross-sectoral approach to manage ocean use and decreasing other local human pressures on marine ecosystems and thus increasing their resilience. (See detailed results below.) The identification of climate refugia, anticipation of climate-induced conflicts, and allocation of areas for blue carbon capture and storage, among others, were also identified as possible contributors by over half the respondents.

With regard to climate adaptation (i.e., adjusting to impacts and exploring beneficial opportunities), most respondents (77%) believe that MSP can contribute. Opinions were more divided about the potential for MSP to contribute to climate mitigation (i.e., decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases) with many people arguing that climate mitigation requires more global approaches than MSP can provide.

We are deeply thankful to everyone who participated in the survey. The results we received constitute a unique and very valuable source of information. We will also be contacting respondents who stated interest in further discussing the topic as soon as we finalize our preliminary analysis of the results. Please contact us if you have any questions!