ICES Science Fund

Social transformations of marine social-ecological systems

  • ​​​Lead scientist: Sebastian Villasante, University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain.​
  • Co-scientist: Olivier Gudayer, IFREMER, France.

Project objectives 

Resilience is the ability of socio-ecological systems to cope with and adapt to change. Resilient systems are adaptable, flexible, and prepared for change and uncertainty. Most of the research done on marine social-ecological systems (SESs) has been focused on the transformations of marine ecosystems and their ecological functions. It is impossible to address today's great challenges in global marine change and sustainability without a better understanding of how real and enduring social transformation comes about and how, where appropriate, it can be initiated, promoted or (re)directed. This project goes beyond the state of the art by examining social transformations of marine SESs. A social transformation here is defined as a significant change in the structure (e.g., fishers, enterprises, markets, institutions) of SESs, amd may be predicatable or unpredictable.

Although there is general agreement that understanding where and how humans use the oceans is an essential component of marine resource planning and management, the associated social transformations are still largely unexplored. According to the ICES Strategic Plan (2014-2018), achieving integrated ecosystem understanding requires an interdisciplinary approach including knowledge of marine ecosystems, their connectivity and interdependency of ecosystem components and social and economic activities related to these ecosystems. Here, we contribute to this goal by investigating global cases of social transformation and the reasons for such transformation as well as  a detailed carrying out a detailed examination of key case studies in Europe. ​

The specific objectives are to:

  1. Investigate what are the type and magnitude of the social transformation experienced by these relevant marine SESs and, what type of (un)predictable changes are currently driving these transformations;
  2. Reconstruct social transformations during the last decade to investigate how natural capital, institutions and the fisher organizations responded to ecological, economic and institutional drivers and changes;
  3. To engage stakeholders in the co-design of present and future methodologies, tools and solutions to deal with these changes, thus promoting successful transformations of marine social-ecological systems.

At an international level, this includes presentation of preliminary and final results at meetings, in international scientific journals, and via popular science media. The main product of this project will be the reconstruction of social transformations of marine SESs in Europe. In particular, the expected outputs for key selected case studies will be the following:

  • To construct a public database with detailed information about the different human dimensions of the oceans and their drivers that have been documented. The database will provide a high-quality, descriptive, open-source information resource for students, lecturers, ecosystem managers and researchers. The project will provide the basis for future inclusions of case studies in order to create a repository of knowledge on this topic
  • To publish a synthesis paper of the role of human dimensions of marine ecosystems
  • To publish a Special Issue on "Social Transformations of marine social-ecological systems" to a journal with the results of each case study, as well as other papers in the topic by inviting other experts, stimulating the participation of social scientists in ICES community

All project participants 

Gonzalo Macho, University of Vigo

Begoña Santos, IEO

Edelmiro Ulloa, ARVI

Cristina Pita, University of Aveiro

Ana Moreno, IPMA

Graham Pierce, University of Aberdeen and University of Aveiro

Katia Frangoudes, Ifremer​​

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Social transformations of marine social-ecological systems

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