Sustainable ocean management — exploring pathways to transformative change
The conservation and sustainable use of our ocean and coasts is a critical global challenge, especially given the urgency of climate action.
Postgraduate research student, Tegan Evans, explains her research journey, from volunteering on coral reefs in Hong Kong to studying a PhD on how the oceans can be managed sustainably.
How did you become interested in the ocean and how it’s managed?
I was really lucky that when I was 16, I won a scholarship to go to college in Hong Kong where I volunteered in my spare time surveying the health of coral reefs. People supervising our dive team had been observing these reefs for decades, and had witnessed their decline. I realised that the degradation came from how coral reefs had been poorly managed. The experience profoundly shaped my relationship with the ocean. I quickly decided that I wanted to work in ocean management and learn how to change and improve management practices.
This led me to study a degree and masters in Marine Geography at Cardiff University, where I covered everything from ocean chemistry, ecology and geomorphology to environmental law, hydrography and ocean management. I soon realised that governance was what I was most interested in. I focused on plastic pollution governance in Wales for my undergraduate research, and offshore wind energy governance in the Irish Sea for my masters research.
Now, my PhD at Portsmouth is looking at how transformative processes can be used to shape blue governance to deal with the multitude of threats that are facing the ocean, such as climate change, pollution and over extraction. My postgraduate research will also investigate what makes a successful transformation, and how we can use those lessons to create long-lasting change.
My PhD at Portsmouth is looking at how transformative processes can be used to shape blue governance to deal with the multitude of threats that are facing the ocean, such as climate change, pollution and over extraction.
What is blue governance and why is it important?
Blue governance is a new concept in ocean management. It sees the ocean as part of a connected system, and covers everything from coastal environments to the high seas. There is only one ocean and it's important that we realise this when decisions are made about how best to manage it.
Calls for transformation in how we govern natural resources, and the ocean in particular, are not new. The global understanding of the need to change the way we manage natural resources is at an all time high. For example, a vision for transformation was set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015; the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report impresses that its “now or never”; and the High Level Ocean Panels represents the vision for ocean transformation by 16 nation states, including Canada, Fiji, Ghana and France. What's missing, however, is an understanding of how the required transformation can be achieved, or where it should be targeted.
It is clear that transformation is a complex term that means “different things to different people” (O’Brien, 2012) and risks being used as a strategic smokescreen without achieving actual change. My research therefore focuses on understanding what transformation means in the context of blue governance, and identifying potential leverage points for change.
Calls for transformation in how we govern natural resources, and the ocean in particular, are not new. What's missing, however, is an understanding of how the required transformation can be achieved, or where it should be targeted.
What has your research involved so far?
Currently, I’m interviewing experts and practitioners of ocean governance, at both a UK and global scale, to understand their experiences, perspectives, attitudes and understanding of transformational change. Establishing these strategic perspectives is important to identify potential barriers and opportunities for transformative change. My current interviewees are from diverse backgrounds — from marine planners, non-governmental organisations, academics and start-ups.
The interviews have been incredibly interesting and immensely valuable. The diversity of opinion and wealth of knowledge shared from different professional perspectives highlights the creative power that the concept of transformation can have. They’ve opened my eyes to where change is already happening — whether its innovative financing, such as the debt for nature swap in Seychelles, or radical ideas about future institutional arrangements in the UK. It's becoming clear that vision and creativity are fundamental in achieving transformation.
The diversity of opinion and wealth of knowledge shared from different professional perspectives highlights the creative power that the concept of transformation can have.
Following these interviews, I will begin to put forward a definition of what transformative change could look like in blue governance, and an initial understanding of what the leverage points for change could be. I’ll then be able to evaluate some of these leverage points in a case study. I’m hoping to use Seychelles and Bangladesh as two case study sites, which will involve a documentary analysis, and hopefully some fieldwork to conduct interviews.
Tegan was inspired to research ocean governance after seeing degraded coral reefs in Asia. She hopes that her research will contribute to the protection of the marine environment.
What impact do you hope your research will have?
By facilitating a deeper and more meaningful understanding of transformation as a concept, and what factors facilitate successful transformation, I’m hoping to be able to provide some practical recommendations for how to achieve transformation in the future.
These recommendations should help to facilitate better governance of blue environments so they are preserved for future generations, and support some of the implementation of major treaties that are happening currently, such as the negotiations on sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ), and the UN discussions to develop a global agreement to end plastic pollution.
In true blue-sky thinking, I would love to come full circle and use these recommendations to protect marine environments, such as the degraded reefs in Hong Kong that set me on this journey.