GCRF Building capacity for sustainable interactions with marine ecosystems for health, wellbeing, food and livelihoods of coastal communities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Plymouth
Department Name: Sch of Biological and Marine Sciences


Seas and coasts and the nature that lives in them provide multiple services (e.g. farmed and wild capture protein-rich seafood for local consumption and sale, coastal flood and storm defences, tourism, leisure, marine renewable energy, transport and climate regulation) that can be exploited or are passively used to support local economies and the health and well-being of coastal communities. Yet, there is an increasing demand for ocean space resulting from expanding use of the marine environment, and a growing awareness that much of the marine environment is deteriorating. In response a need for marine planning (MP) has grown globally to ensure sustainable use of marine space and extraction of its resources. This is particularly evident in E and SE Asia, where conflicts over marine space and resources are growing, added to by pressures of population growth
The capacity to implement MP throughout E and SE Asia is largely lacking and presents an overarching challenge: to improve the integrated management of marine and coastal environments to reduce conflict between users, mitigate risks associated with expanded or new uses, and protect fragile ecosystems while supporting livelihoods, food security, health and well-being of coastal communities. We will achieve this through collaborative international, interdisciplinary research, training and capacity building. Activities will focus on learning-by-doing among researchers, local stakeholders, and local communities to deliver research outcomes with potential for impact. We have five sub-challenges to address, aligning with three UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG1 no poverty; SDG2 zero hunger; and SDG3 good health and well-being):
Challenge 1: Promote sustainable harvesting by reducing overexploitation of seafood and degradation of the environments, and promoting sustainable management of wild capture seafood and production of seafood through aquaculture.
Challenge 2: Prepare for climate change by understanding its direct and indirect effects on coastal communities and anticipating and mitigating the impacts e.g. coastal wetlands, reefs and mangroves dampen the effects of flooding, storms and tsunamis; their management plays a key role on human wellbeing beyond being sources of food.
Challenge 3: Promote good health: we aim to show how improved management of marine ecosystems may promote health and wellbeing benefits, including but not limited to food and nutrition, and reduce the health risks that arise from degraded and overexploited ecosystems.
Challenge 4: Identify opportunities for future growth: improved management can provide additional, sustainable, opportunities for growth via technologies such as marine renewable energy. We will need to recognise and account for synergies and trade-offs among uses of the marine environment under MP.
Challenge 5: Co-development and implementation of MP: marine plans need to be culturally-acceptable, facilitate growth of, and reduce risks to and conflicts among users of the marine environment, and simultaneously contribute to improving livelihoods, health and wellbeing and ensuring sustainable use of marine ecosystems.
We will focus research, (and learning-by-doing), on case studies in UNESCO Biosphere Reserves in Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines and China and marine protected areas in Malaysia.
Ultimately this project will deliver economic, social, health and wellbeing and environmental benefits to coastal communities in SE Asia via co-development of local research capacity, stakeholder engagement, and application of contextually relevant tools for MP that will endure well beyond the four-year programme. We anticipate a future where people can rely on restored and more resilient marine ecosystems that can be used sustainably to support and improve livelihoods. Delivery of that objective will in turn create durable collaborations between academic and non-academic partners to deliver research with transformative impact.

Planned Impact

Millions of people rely on marine and coastal ecosystems for food security, livelihoods and their health and well-being. Increasing demand for ocean space by marine users, conflict between them and growing awareness of the deteriorating state of many components of the marine environment, are all leading to the recognition of the global need for marine planning with community integration. In E/SE Asia, where marine activities are important contributors of GDP, marine spatial planning has been highlighted as a particular need. Through academic-stakeholder collaborations and capacity building, and with community co-creation, Blue Communities will support the development and management of the marine components of selected UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Reserves and marine parks in E/SE Asia. In so doing, it will provide lessons for the innovative application of integrated marine planning in E/SE Asia and beyond.
Non-academic beneficiaries will include UNESCO Biosphere Reserve/Marine Park personnel, regional and international marine and public health organisations (e.g. PEMSEA, APACPH), NGOs (e.g. INPLF, Blue Ventures, North Devon Biosphere Foundation), local and national government, sector representatives (e.g. fishers and tourism associations) and members of coastal communities. Ensuring successful engagement and the delivery of maximum benefit will require good communication, careful nurturing and sensitive management, with engagement strategies tailored for each group.
Co-production will form the basis of all research activities whereby relevant stakeholders and communities will be incorporated as equal partners in the research process. This will ensure that projects, and the Programme as a whole, respond to a demonstrable need. Stakeholder and coastal community representatives will be invited to join the Expert Advisory Panel, and will have the opportunity to steer the Programme to ensure that all outputs meet identified development challenges.
Stakeholders will benefit from being part of a strengthened interdisciplinary, international network, providing them with access to a range of academic expertise to support the implementation of marine planning. Project outputs will help end-users to make more informed decisions about sustainable use and management of the marine environment; which activities may promote the health and well-being of coastal communities; current and future opportunities for economic growth; and how to prepare for the impacts of climate change. Coastal communities associated with the Biosphere Reserves and Marine Park case studies will benefit from marine plans that incorporate their needs, reduce conflict with other users and support sustainable livelihood development.
All project materials and data will be available to interested stakeholders, including coastal communities, through the Blue Communities website, in the relevant languages. The website will be tailored to the programme's diverse audience with tiered content to provide various levels of accessibility. Information will also be disseminated to coastal communities through community meetings and specially designed materials, taking account of language and potential low levels of literacy. A programme of popular articles in local newspapers and interviews with local radio and TV stations will be pursued in partner E/SE Asian countries. Blue Communities will also hold a 'managers conference' towards the programme end, to showcase the new models, methods of marine spatial planning and other innovations. To this we will invite practitioners from the Western Indian Ocean, Caribbean and Pacific as well as from the UK and E/SE Asia.
Leveraging this four year Programme and its project activities, key beneficiaries will be invited to co-develop further collaborative and cutting-edge research related to marine spatial planning in the region, extending the impact of Blue Communities through enduring interactions.


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Lloret J (2021) Environmental and human health impacts of cruise tourism: A review. in Marine pollution bulletin

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