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The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Editor’s note: Every month, I skim dozens of newsletters, reports, and articles for material relevant to managing and conserving marine ecosystems. And every month, I’m a little shellshocked by the onslaught of bad news. People ask me how I like my job, and I tell them that I love the oceans, I love the work, and I love the people I work with, but it is profoundly sad to chronicle the decline of ocean ecosystems. I know many Skimmer readers have these same – and perhaps even more intense – feelings and experiences. Several recent studies and a body of recent reporting are now providing a framework for recognizing and legitimizing these feelings and experiences as well as highlighting the need to develop systems to deal with them. This Skimmer provides a brief summary of recent research and news in the hopes it can help marine conservation and management practitioners move forward with their vital work studying, managing, and protecting marine ecosystems.

What is ecological grief?

  • As professionals in the marine conservation and management field, Skimmer readers are hyperaware of large scale and global changes to marine ecosystems changes including loss of biodiversity, top predators, iconic species, and biomass and the degradation of habitats. These changes are due to climate change, overfishing, coastal development, and other human activities.
     
  • New research is now examining the emotional and psychological toll that these changes are having on people, especially:
The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Editor’s note: The EBM Tools Network got started in 2005-2006 under the leadership of Patrick Crist, then the director of conservation planning and ecosystem management at NatureServe. Over the past 14 years, the Network has grown to over 11,000 coastal and marine conservation and management practitioners worldwide, and is now run by OCTO, which also publishes this newsletter. For this issue of the Skimmer, we catch up with Crist, now principal at the consultancy PlanIt Forward, to see how conservation planning tools have changed over this time.

Skimmer: What changes have you seen in the use of conservation planning tools since the EBM Tools Network got started in 2005-2006? Are more conservation projects and groups using them? If so, why do you think this change has occurred?

Crist: It is really hard to quantify the use of tools – I haven’t seen any polling or studies on this although it would be really informative. Given that most conservation software is free, it is hard to tease apart casual downloads from actual application. For example, when the NatureServe Vista decision support system became free, there were about 2000 downloads worldwide almost immediately and there have typically been a few hundred every year since then. Periodic polling of the registrants, however, suggests single-digit percentages of actual use.

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Editor’s note: In last month’s issue, The Skimmer interviewed three practitioners about their experiences developing and using serious games to educate stakeholders, professionals, students, and the general public about aspects of the conservation and management of coastal and marine ecosystems. This month we interviewed Harald Warmelink, a senior research project leader at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, about his work developing the serious game MSP Challenge. Warmelink’s work focuses on the design, use, and evaluation of serious games for policy analysis, decision-making, management, and organization, as well as their gamification.

The Skimmer: Can you tell us a little bit about your game and the target audience?

Warmelink: As we wrote in the article “Communicating Maritime Spatial Planning: The MSP Challenge approach”: “The MSP Challenge Simulation Platform integrates real geodata (both marine and human activities) sourced from a great many proprietary institutions and data-portals (such as IMO, HELCOM, EMODnet, and national data centers) with science-based simulation models for shipping, energy and ecology (Ecopath with Ecosim). The data and models have been linked together in a game engine (Unity) to create an interactive simulation platform. This simulation platform allows anyone – experts as well as non-experts – to creatively operate it for scenario development, and/or for multi-player game sessions. This can have multiple purposes such as scenario exploration, co-design, validation or policy-oriented learning. Although the simulation platform has taken a significant step towards becoming a next generation marine planning support system, it continues to use play mechanics, in the form of player roles, scenarios and challenges.”

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Historically, games were a means for young people to learn critical survival skills. In recent decades, however, games have come to be viewed as simply a source of entertainment. A recent movement – “serious gaming” – is now revitalizing the idea that games can do a lot more than just entertain. It is showing that they can be a powerful tool for teaching, engaging stakeholders, conducting research, and evaluating public policy. For instance, serious games can:

  • Help players better understand complex topics and the interests of a wide variety of groups, promoting thinking about systems as a whole
  • Let players experiment with and see the consequences of different choices over time, promoting longer-term thinking
  • Create a high level of engagement with the public, potentially at lower cost than other more traditional engagement activities
  • Help policymakers and researchers understand stakeholder decision making and the way stakeholders may respond to a variety of policy choices.

This month The Skimmer has compiled information about role-playing/simulation games designed to educate stakeholders, professionals, students, and the general public about aspects of coastal and marine conservation, management, and adaptation. These serious games allow players to experiment with coastal and marine conservation, management, and adaptation actions (or inaction) to help players, researchers, and policymakers better understand how coastal and marine ecosystems (including resource users and human communities) work. We also interview a range of game developers about their experiences using their games in the field.

Look through our new compilation for a serious game for your coastal and marine conservation, management, and adaptation work.

Read about how these games are being used to engage stakeholders, educate students and the general public, and conduct research.

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

The Skimmer interviewed three practitioners about their experiences developing and using serious games to educate stakeholders, professionals, students, and the general public about aspects of the conservation and management of coastal and marine ecosystems. Learn about:

One striking commonality of these stories is the ability of games to engage a wide variety of audiences – oftentimes even wider audiences than those for which they were developed – in discussion and learning about the conservation and management of marine ecosystems.

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

It’s no secret that news about the ocean is pretty disheartening these days. So, as we get started with 2020, we here at The Skimmer want to highlight a new report that looks at ocean potential. The High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy recently released “The Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change: Five Opportunities for Action”, which quantifies contributions that ocean-based mitigation strategies can make in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, while also delivering other ecosystem services. The report considers the potential contributions of:

  • Scaling up ocean-based renewable energy (e.g., wind, wave, and tidal power)
  • Reducing emissions from freight and passenger shipping
  • Increasing protection and restoration of coastal and marine ecosystems (particularly “blue carbon” habitats such as mangroves, tidal marshes, and seagrasses), which would provide carbon mitigation as well as other ecosystem service benefits
  • Shifting diets towards low-carbon sources of protein from the ocean
  • Storing carbon in the seabed.
The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Aquaculture production is an increasingly important component of global seafood production. Seafood production from aquaculture has expanded nearly six-fold since 1990, while capture fisheries production has remained relatively stagnant. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s most recent analysis of global fisheries and aquaculture, seafood production from aquaculture (excluding seaweeds) exceeded production from marine capture fisheries for the first time in 2016.[i]

Aquaculture’s reputation is mixed, however. It obviously has the potential to feed many people, but it has is associated with a number of observed and potential negative environmental impacts, including:

  • Altering and destroying habitat, such as mangrove forests, for aquaculture facilities
  • Escapes of farmed species into the wild, enabling species invasions and altering the genetics of wild populations
  • Spreading diseases and parasites to wild populations
  • Releasing fecal waste, uneaten food, and pesticides into the local environment, decreasing water quality
  • Contributing to the overfishing of wild fish populations because of the use of wild fish to feed farmed fish.

This negative view obscures the incredible diversity of aquaculture types and their diverse interactions with marine environments. Aquaculture enterprises vary in:

  • What species are cultivated (e.g., seaweeds, mollusks, crustaceans, finfish) and what they feed on (e.g., whether they are photosynthesizers, filter feeders, deposit feeders, herbivores, carnivores)
  • How intense production is (e.g., total biomass per cage, the degree to which fertilizer and supplementary feeds are used)
  • The type of environment production takes place in (e.g., freshwater streams or lakes, fully enclosed tanks, ponds, intertidal, sheltered bays, open ocean, sea pens, ponds, tanks).

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