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Environment study highlights key social drivers for effective oceans conservation

Friday, January 22, 2016

Around the world, coastal and marine communities and ecosystems are the first to face the threat of climate change. A new study by researchers in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo looks specifically at the role played by bridging organizations in connecting people and knowledge in ways that to lead to more effective marine conservation and saving coastal regions from irreversible damage.

Shoreline in Bali

As the name suggests, a bridging organization ‘bridges’ or links different social actors that would otherwise be poorly connected or not connected at all.  The study, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, mapped social connections in two conservation networks across Bali, Indonesia – involving four bridging organizations – to understand how those organizations contributed to improved governance outcomes.

“Conservation settings are inherently messy,” said Samantha Berdej, a PhD student in the Department of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo and lead author of the study. “People often hold different values, needs and wants for a particular marine space, which can increase pressure on resources and lead to conflicts. Governance in these settings also tends to be fragmented and divided by sector. Our work demonstrates the value of bridging organizations here to build much-needed connections between actors to allow for the sharing of knowledge and expertise, and to provide platforms where they can collaborate and learn from one another.”

Find out more about work conservation research like this at Waterloo and around the world by the Environmental Change Governance Group.

The study highlighted how bridging organizations were able to connect an immense diversity of social actors from local to international, and from different sectors (e.g., fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, etc.). In doing so, new pathways were built for collaboration, information-exchange, and technological and expertise sharing.

Understanding the organizations that occupy bridging positions, and how they impact governance networks is an important determinant of successful conservation outcomes. The research documented, for example, a better balancing of multiple objectives and interests in conservation planning, greater coordination of efforts across scales, inclusion of diverse conservation actors, and facilitation of empowerment and capacity building.

These findings are important for informing management and conservation decisions across coastal and marine systems facing many new pressures, including climate change, and may be especially pertinent to those settings where technical and financial capacity for conservation is limited. However, the significance of findings is not limited to Indonesia and the Coral Triangle region.

“This study has important implications for Canada as well,” said Dr. Derek Armitage, an associate professor in the School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability at the University of Waterloo and co-author of the paper. “The federal government, through Fisheries and Oceans Canada has an ambitious target to set aside 10 percent of Canada's oceans by 2020. They have also committed to a science-based approach. But to accomplish their agenda they have to collaborate in some fundamentally new ways with environmental groups and NGOs, as well as the coastal communities that may have their livelihoods affected. This study establishes the central role that bridging organizations must and should play in linking - vertically and horizontally - federal and other higher levels of government, scientists and communities in ways that support knowledge sharing, collaboration and conflict reduction".  

Read the full paper, “Bridging Organizations Drive Effective Governance Outcomes for Conservation of Indonesia’s Marine Systems”, in PLOS ONE.

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