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The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management
The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Editor’s note: Jon Fisher is currently a conservation science officer at The Pew Charitable Trusts where he provides scientific expertise to inform and improve research projects and helps to increase the impact of scientific research. He was formerly a senior conservation scientist at The Nature Conservancy where he led and conducted research as a principal investigator and conducted internal theory of change work. He and co-authors recently published a paper “Improving scientific impact: how to practice science that influences environmental policy and management” in the journal Conservation Science and Practice. Fisher presented a webinar on this research to the OCTO networks (including the EBM Tools Network) in December 2019, and we highly recommend reading the paper and watching the webinar recording.

Skimmer: As you describe in your paper, a lot of scientific research that is intended to be applied isn’t ever used - because decision-makers are unaware of it, aren’t able to access it, don’t understand it, or don’t see it as relevant. Your recent paper outlines practical steps for improving the impact of science on decision making. Could you give us a summary of those steps?

Fisher: Sure, at a high level we recommend four steps:

  1. Identify and understand the audience (e.g., a decision-maker with whom you can partner)
  2. Clarify the need for evidence (i.e., how new information could lead to action)
  3. Gather "just enough" evidence (i.e., so there is enough rigor to be credible without missing key decision-making deadlines or wasting resources on gathering extraneous information)
  4. Share and discuss the evidence (i.e., help people learn about your results and motivate them to act on them).

These are guidelines rather than a strict recipe for success because there are many factors that determine the impact that research has. But following these steps improves the odds of research being influential. In fact, we ourselves have found that not following these steps in past projects has led to disappointing outcomes.

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Two recent articles we read really struck home about why it benefits EVERYONE to make marine conservation and management anti-racist and anti-colonial. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson is a American marine biologist, policy expert, and strategist; founder and CEO of Ocean Collectiv, a consulting firm for conservation solutions grounded in social justice; and founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities. In a Washington Post perspective piece “I’m a black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet”, she writes:

“[B]lack Americans are disproportionately more likely than whites to be concerned about — and affected by — the climate crisis. But the many manifestations of structural racism, mass incarceration and state violence mean environmental issues are only a few lines on a long tally of threats. How can we expect black Americans to focus on climate when we are so at risk on our streets, in our communities, and even within our own homes? How can people of color effectively lead their communities on climate solutions when faced with pervasive and life-shortening racism?

“If we want to successfully address climate change, we need people of color. Not just because pursuing diversity is a good thing to do, and not even because diversity leads to better decision-making and more effective strategies, but because black people are significantly more concerned about climate change than white people (57 percent vs. 49 percent), and Latinx people are even more concerned (70 percent). To put that in perspective, it means that more than 23 million black Americans already care deeply about the environment and could make a huge contribution to the massive amount of climate work that needs doing.”

Similarly Asha De Vos is a marine biologist and ocean educator from Sri Lanka. She is founder of Oceanswell and a National Geographic Explorer, Pew Fellow, and TED Fellow. In a Scientific American opinion piece “The Problem of ‘Colonial Science’”, she writes:

“Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the world shut down. I saw researchers and conservationists panicking that they could not get to their field sites across the world; that their multiyear data sets would have a gaping hole; and, finally, that if they had ensured that they trained local partners on the ground to do the work, then their data collection would have continued. Did it really take a pandemic for us to realize this?

“[Colonial science is] the conservation model where researchers from the developed world come to countries like mine, do research and leave without any investment in human capacity or infrastructure. It creates a dependency on external expertise and cripples local conservation efforts. The work is driven by the outsiders’ assumptions, motives and personal needs, leading to an unfavorable power imbalance between those from outside and those on the ground.”

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

Editor’s note: The COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically affecting the lives of many, if not most, of Skimmer readers right now, and it may herald some broad societal changes in the coming years. For the next few months, The Skimmer will take a look at the various ways that the pandemic is affecting marine ecosystems and their conservation and management. We will do this in installments published every 1-2 weeks. In this issue, we take a look at how fisheries and aquaculture are being affected by the pandemic. We will update previous installments of our coverage, so if you see critical aspects that we are missing, please let us know at skimmer [at] (). Many thanks to the EBM Tools Network for some early tips on what was happening at the docks.

“The biggest crisis to hit the fishing industry ever”

The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management
The Skimmer on Marine Ecosystems and Management

In April, the Mulago Foundation, which funds organizations that fight poverty, pooled advice from leaders in its network who have steered their institutions through Ebola, the 2008 recession, and other crises. The advice is pithy, insightful, and provocative. It is highly relevant to small-to-mid-size NGOs, and many others will find it useful as well. The advice is available in English, SpanishFrench and Portuguese.

In addition, Mulago also hosted a wonderful webinar on this topic – full of useful advice on how to ensure the survival of an institution, maintain its progress, and respond to opportunities that will arise during the crisis. You can watch a recording of the webinar here.

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.