#Decadal2022: Understanding and incorporating human dimensions of marine social-ecological systems

The Fourth Symposium on Decadal Variability of the North Atlantic and its Marine Ecosystems: 2010–2019 takes place in Bergen, Norway and runs from 20–22 June 2022.
Published: 22 June 2022

​​​In the third of our feature articles from the Fourth Symposium on Decadal Variability of the North Atlantic and its Marine Ecosystems, ​Anthony CharlesSaint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada elaborates on his keynote lecture on Understanding and incorporating human dimensions of marine social-ecological systems, which opened Theme Session 4: Expanding horizons: assessing decadal changes and incorporating Social-Ecological Systems in the North Atlantic.

One of the most crucial developments in the modern era of ocean research and management has been the recognition that, just as ocean ecosystems are complex and in need of better understanding, so too is there a need for a parallel understanding of human aspects – the complexities of coastal communities and of the many human uses of ocean resources.

The need for this understanding is rooted in two key realities. First, decisions about ocean use affect both the ecosystems and the humans, and in particular, how well, and how sustainably, we achieve multiple human benefits from the oceans. Second, people and ocean resources interact together in complex ways, and management can only work if we deal with both "sides" of the interactions. 

Both of these realities lead to an integrated focus on what are called "marine social-ecological systems". The key word here is "systems" – which, as with ecosystems, implies understanding and incorporating a web of interactions. This links the ecological side (including physical and oceanographic aspects) and in parallel, the social side (including economic, cultural, political, institutional, and technological aspects). Social-ecological systems are affected by humans through ocean impacts (such as resource use, pollution, coastal development, and so on) as well as positively, through the rich knowledge of humans, and their many conservation and stewardship activities. 

Understanding marine social-ecological systems requires connecting natural science and social science, as well as the knowledge of fishers, Indigenous peoples,​​​ and coastal communities. There is an exciting growth in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary approaches, bringing a variety of disciplines together, with human dimensions included from the start, and with coastal communities and ocean users often involved as active participants. 

Incorporating human dimensions into the management of ocean space is also essential – whether in a small bay, local-level coastal community, or in a large marine ecosystem. Doing so leads to more effective and integrated decision-making, which is especially important as we deal increasingly with multiple ocean uses. It is impressive to see that, in recognition of these needs, ICES is doing more now than ever to find ways to understand and incorporate human dimensions of marine social-ecological systems.

The Fourth Symposium on Decadal Variability of the North Atlantic and its Marine Ecosystems: 2010–2019​ runs from 20–22 June 2022 in Bergen, Norway.

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​​​​​Anthony Charles gives a history lesson on collaborative marine research, the start of ICES in the 1900s through to the present that now includes integrative work on the human dimensions of marine socio-ecological systems.

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#Decadal2022: Understanding and incorporating human dimensions of marine social-ecological systems

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