Understanding marine socio-ecological systems: including the human dimension in integrated ecosystem assessments

What do you get when an economist and an ecologist talk about the ocean? Besides an interesting discussion, it is likely there will be some consideration of how to solve many of the problems facing marine ecosystems around the world. 
Published: 27 May 2016

​​​​​​That is precisely what the MSEAS symposium aims to do.​

The MSEAS symposium, takes place from Monday 30 May until Friday 3 June in Brest, France and will gather participants from across the world with the aim of exchanging viewpoints on challenges, and solutions, to improve consideration of the human component along with more typical ecological recommendations for marine ecosystems. This includes across multiple use sectors such as fishing, aquaculture, renewable energies, mineral resources, transport/shipping, and coastal development.

Studies conducted over the past several decades have highlighted the causes and consequences of marine ecosystem degradation. Numerous public policies have been established to reverse these trends. Despite such efforts, there remains increasing pressure from human forcing and climate change. Raising awareness of the stakes, modifying behaviours, adapting exploitation and utilization techniques, and defining and enforcing more efficient public policies requires a better understanding and consideration of the values, practices and governance associated with marine and coastal ecosystems. This is the central issue of this symposium: how to establish an inter-disciplinary, international dialogue to better consider human and social dimensions within research, science and management efforts to support of the long-term management of marine and coastal ecosystems.  A truly integrated ecosystem assessment of marine and coastal systems requires venues for such discussions to occur.

MSEAS symposium: an international premiere

The sea, as a source of energy, goods, and services as well as a vector for maritime transit, is an essential component of world economic development. In France, Europe, and most regions of the planet, investments in "blue growth" potential are escalating, supported by both well-established economic sectors (shipping, fishing and seafood processing, traditional marine cultures, coastal tourism, conventional exploitation of oil and gas, etc.) and by emerging sectors (renewable marine energies, energetic and deep-sea mineral resources, new aquaculture models, marine biotechnologies, etc.). The challenge is to enable the on-going and anticipated growth of maritime activities, while ensuring its long-term viability, from an ecological and social point of view. This challenge implies managing human impacts on marine ecosystems and, in turn, managing the impact of ecological changes on coastal populations, industries, stakeholders, and on the society at large.​

Taking up this challenge involves the integrated assessment of marine socio-ecological systems, accounting for the relationships between the functioning of marine ecosystems and the development of the blue economy, and carrying this out on multiple scales. The methods and tools available for evaluation are constantly developing but have not been treated under the scope of a systematic review until now.

As an international premiere, the symposium aims to identify recent advances and scientific challenges raised by the consideration of human and social dimensions in the study of marine socio-ecosystems. Entitled MSEAS, for "Marine Social-EcologicAl Systems", the symposium will report on research studies and management applications dedicated to the integration of approaches still largely dominated by life sciences but that are beginning to incorporate economic, sociological, cultural, psychological, political, and regulatory facets as well.

The symposium programme

Keynote addresses from seven world-reknown experts will put into perspective the different questions that have structured the scientific programme of this meeting: Serge García, former director of the Fisheries Department of FAO (Italy), will discuss research requirements in terms of the human dimensions of ocean management; Beth Fulton (CSIRO, Australia), specialist in marine socio-ecosystem modelling, will present recent advances on the accounting in models of economic and social aspects; Linwood Pendleton (UBO-AMURE, France), coordinator of the Marine Ecosystem Partnership, will address a state-of-the-art concept concerning knowledge valuable to maritine policy-directed assessment; Anthony Charles (Univ. Halifax, Canada) will introduce innovative approaches in terms of partnerships between scientists and stakeholders; Jake Rice, former scientific director at the Fisheries and Oceans ministry (Canada), will stress the importance of governance systems for a sustainable exploitation of the oceans; Edward Allison (Univ. Washington, USA), will present his research experience at the interface between human considerations and ecosystem functioning. Finally, Simon Levin (Univ. Princeton, USA), national medal of American science, will display the connections existing between the understanding of life systems and the comprehending of social organisation modalities governing human at-sea activities.

In plenary session, the first part of the symposium will afford experts an opportunity to address the management of at-sea/sea-bound activities, and the research sector in the context of the symposium theme. Initially, Torgeir Edvardsen (OECD) will display a study of the OECD published in last April, about world maritime economy by horizon 2030. His presentation will be followed by Paul Holthus' (World Ocean Council), who will present the point of view of maritime economy stakeholders, and the one of Pim Visser, president of the European Association of Producer Organisations, who will share his experience in terms of coordination between fisheries management and protection of marine biodiversity. François Gauthier, deputy director of the Marine Protected Areas Agency, will present the experience of the Agency in the understanding and management of marie socio-ecosystems. Finally, Mark Dickey-Collas, from the ICES Secretariat (Denmark) and Alida Bundy, from the Bedford Institute of Oceanography (Canada) will provide a synthesis of the recent advances: the first one on the way to make operational the ecosystem approach to the management of marine activities; the second on the integration social and life sciences in scientific recommendations in support of management.

During parallel sessions, the participants will work subsequently on the following questions:

  • Which information is required to shed light on decisions related to the monitoring of marine activities ?
  • Can we build scenarios integrating our understanding of ecological, economic and social dimensions, and with which methodology and tools ?
  • How to translate scientific data into performance indices, in terms of sustainability of blue economy ?
  • Which are the opportunities and challenges associated for scientist-stakeholder partnership research ?
  • Which, past and future, changes in the governance systems will favour a greater integration of marine knowledge and management systems ?
  • Which lessons can be learned from testimonies of experience in research on these different questions ?

​The symposium is co-organized by ICES and PICES. Several organizations such IFREMER, the University of Western Brittany within the AMURE laboratory -France-, NOAA (USA) and CSIRO (Australia), and the Centre for Marine Socioecology (Australia), the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (Australia), the Belmont Forum (SEAVIEW projet), local authorities (Brest Métropole, Department Council of Finistère and Brittany region), the University of Western Brittany, the European Institute of the Sea and the Labex MER), and ICES and PICES have provided support for the symposium.



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Understanding marine socio-ecological systems: including the human dimension in integrated ecosystem assessments

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