This project centers on the mechanisms by which sociopolitical power disparities influence the creation of ecological harm and environmental injustice, and their relationship to socio-ecological vulnerability.
by MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
What does sustainability mean to you? To SESYNC, it can mean meeting human needs in an equitable way, while supporting the natural systems upon which present and future life depends. This concept of sustainability is especially relevant when applied to our appetite for seafood: in many instances, we are harvesting fish stocks faster than they can reproduce and catching unwanted or unsellable species, called “bycatch,” that are discarded.
Overfishing is a major socio-environmental problem within the marine realm—it’s jeopardizing both ocean ecosystems and the food security of the billion-plus people that depend on seafood as their primary source of protein. Over the past several decades, we have come to understand that the oceans’ bounties are in fact highly sensitive and terminable. People from every corner of the globe have responded by making positive changes from ocean to table, implementing sustainable fishing practices and making informed, sustainable consumer choices at restaurants and stores.
One of the most effective tools for improving the vitality of fisheries has been to foster communication between fishers and other fisheries stakeholders. That’s where SESYNC researchers Lekelia (Kiki) Jenkins and S. Hoyt Peckham come in.
Earlier this month, Drs. Jenkins and Peckham hosted a workshop at our Annapolis facility to identify lessons learned for how to best organize and conduct fisher learning exchanges—meetings that provide fishers with the opportunity to share challenges and solutions—and to develop a research plan for determining which elements of these exchanges lead to conservation outcomes. Because fisher exchanges are produced all over the world, Drs. Jenkins and Peckham were also interested in conducting comparative analyses, as well as bridging these communities—from Mexico to Malaysia and Madagascar to the Caribbean—to establish an international network of learning exchange practitioners.
This workshop, comprised of participants and organizers from the fisheries, as well as the academic, NGO, and governmental sectors, had actionability on their minds: workshop products should have a real application beyond their research relevance. In their 2½ days together, participants outlined a guide for practitioners to create their own learning exchanges, as well as a research plan to empirically identify best practices through comparative research of ongoing exchanges. Both address the ultimate socio-environmental goal of improving both marine ecosystem health and the wellbeing of fisher communities.
At SESYNC, the other core staff and I had a lot of fun as flies on the wall, watching the interactions between group members and how they used the open space of our facilities. In one of the most meaningful moments for participants during the workshop, the group collected around the kitchen to share personal stories about their experiences with learning exchanges, and the successes they’ve seen borne of them. The profound, shared impact of these individuals’ work laid the framework for building communities amongst fishermen and organizers of fisher exchanges—the central objective defined by Drs. Jenkins and Peckham in their workshop proposal.
Participants gather in the SESYNC kitchen to share personal stories about learning exchange successes.
Participants enjoy a night of picking blue crabs, the Maryland state crustacean!
by KELLY HONDULA
Faculty Research Assistant
and JESSICA MARX
Research Program Manager
Last Monday on May 6, SESYNC’s Research Program Manager Jessica Marx and Environmental Science Research Assistant Kelly Hondula attended an event at Resources for the Future, co-sponsored by SESYNC, entitled “Responding to Ecological Loss: The Promise and Limits of Ingenuity.” This interdisciplinary and diverse panel—moderated by SESYNC Director of Social Science & Policy, Jim Boyd—brought together scholars, policymakers, and business folks to discuss how technological advancement and conservation priorities can work in concert with each other rather than as opposing forces. When faced with looming ecological loss, can technological innovation develop solutions to vast environmental problems? The panelists tackled this question through a variety of lenses—from scholarly disciplines ranging from economic history to psychology, and from both an NGO and corporate perspective.
Examining the value of nature from historical and psychological perspectives can provide insight into decision-making processes that influence and alleviate present-day problems. The economists argued that the historical loss of natural capital progressed alongside advancements in intellectual and social capital, although at a great cost. A contradiction that the panelists tried to resolve was: as natural capital is lost and ecological resources are degraded, do we value what is left more due to scarcity, or less due to generations adopting new baselines of what is acceptable? The value of nature has certainly shifted over time—not only its economic value, but its inherent and biophysical values. As a psychologist on the panel noted, our perception of what is nature has shifted too—from something “out there,” whether we classify nature as the wilderness or as something we humans are a part of, to even the development of “technological” natures that attempt to mimic natural objects and landscapes.
This discussion made clear that the value of nature spans disciplines and cannot be accurately represented by traditional market ideology. Although we intuitively know that values such as ethics, emotion, and the importance of biodiversity shape our decision-making processes, these forces aren’t currently accounted for in the price signals that have historically led to losses in the natural functioning of socio-environmental systems. The psychologists argued that it would be incredibly naïve to think that we even understand the full extent of the value we’ve lost in ecosystems. Therefore, assigning economic value to resources cannot be the only method we use to combat ecological loss. This idea brought consensus among the panelists: innovation and ingenuity of institutions rather than of technology is where the best opportunities lie in tackling lost ecological functions.
Using the market to value assets is our “normal” approach,” but it is only one tool with which we can approach socio-environmental systems. And historically, this method has not been able to develop the social capital necessary to collectively solve our environmental issues that are inherently rooted in a social world. Instead, we need to broaden our understanding of how collective action, cooperation, and trust can be innovative solutions to address society’s needs while maintaining natural systems.
View video of the entire seminar below:
by JUDY CHE-CASTALDO
In 2006, the U.S. Senate designated the third Friday of May as Endangered Species Day to raise awareness about imperiled species and the successes in species recovery due to protections by the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA). This year also marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of the ESA.
Endangered species recovery is a socio-environmental issue because species conservation involves not only the species of concern, but also the human populations that interact with the species. For example, people may depend upon the use of resources, such as timber in an endangered species’ habitat, and protection of that habitat may change or even eliminate that resource’s availability. Wildlife managers must balance these social and economic considerations with the species’ ecological requirements when creating recovery plans to conserve species.
Because each species has a unique combination of specific biological needs, threats, and social context, management actions and recovery goals can vary tremendously among species. However, that does not necessarily mean that recovery plans are inconsistent or not based on the best available science. As a postdoc at SESYNC, my research aims to understand to what extent the recovery targets for endangered species are based on species’ needs, which are relatively transparent, compared to social, political, or economic factors, which are often not explicitly stated in the recovery plans. One of the goals of this work is to encourage more transparency in the managers’ decision-making process. This research would also quantify relationships between recovery targets and various species attributes, which may be used to establish targets for species with too little biological data to set species-specific targets. There are many such species, including the majority of the 338 Hawaiian plant species that are listed under the ESA.
Celebrate this year’s Endangered Species Day by learning about the endangered and threatened plant and animal species in your area, or listening to the success stories about species that have improved their status on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website. To find out more about Endangered Species Day, including events in your area and podcasts by the Endangered Species Coalition, visit www.stopextinction.org/esd.html. If you are in the Washington, D.C., area, consider attending the Endangered Species Day events at the U.S. Botanic Garden on May 17.
by MARY SHELLEY
Digital Information Research Specialist
and MELISSA ANDREYCHEK
Recently, a diverse group that included marine scientists, governance scholars, database developers, and management experts convened at SESYNC to address the question of under what conditions do designated marine protected areas (MPAs) improve the ecological and social conditions in coastal communities. Funded under SESYNC’s Ecosystem Services Theme, this pursuit aims to document and explain the impacts of MPAs at local, regional, and global scales and to generate scientific insights that can be used to inform both academic research and marine policy deliberations.
SESYNC appealed to the project’s principal investigators, Dr. Helen Fox of the World Wildlife Fund and Dr. Robert Pomeroy of the University of Connecticut, as the right opportunity for their research proposal because of our transdisciplinary integration of social and natural approaches to environmental problem-solving. Participants in this group are all experts in their respective fields, but, as one participant commented, no one person can possible know all available data in all fields—collaborative, integrated synthesis amongst scientists and practitioners from different disciplines can help fill knowledge niches and lead to meaningful, actionable results.
The participants’ varied backgrounds and perspectives meant that an important first step was to develop a cross-disciplinary understanding of their meeting, as well as overall research, goals. During the three-day gathering, the team coalesced around a common framework, shared vocabulary, and possible data sources and analytical approaches. They then identified the next steps to be undertaken by four interconnected, self-selected subgroups that formed in response to the broad tasks identified by the team.
We were excited to see this group make full use of our provided resources. They found our teleconferencing capabilities easy to use and were able to share screens, notes, and video with colleagues on the West Coast and in Europe. Small breakout groups frequently formed in our common area, then reconvened in plenary in our large conference room. One participant found the atmosphere of collegiality created by the physical space so appealing that he asked for the blueprints to inform a redesign at his home institution!
Our cyberinfrastructure resources will continue to support this team in accomplishing its goals between on-site meetings. The team is already making good use of the collaborative workspace and file share we provide to all groups. In addition, our IT staff is ready to support the complex data discovery and synthesis efforts of the project by advising on database design and providing remote access to our database and GIS servers.
We look forward to welcoming this group back to SESYNC for its second meeting later this year.
The emergence of megaregions across the globe is an unplanned experiment in urban growth that often encompasses multiple ecoregions, multiple governance arrangements, and biogeochemical interdependencies. This pursuit will use the Washington, DC-to-Boston urban megaregion as a case study to explore the linkages between urban infrastructure, ecological thresholds, governance strategies, and coupled biogeochemical cycles.
The time scales over which ecological systems respond to signals from their environments (both human and nonhuman) are subject to physical and biological constraints—species populations can only grow so fast; coral larvae can only re-colonize devastated reefs with limited speed; rivers release nutrients stored in sediments over decades, if not millennia. Humans often take action, and expect a response, over much shorter time scales—a few months to a few decades, at most.