The Center is also working to redress imbalances too often evident in oceans discourse, such as the tendency to neglect social issues like intersectionality, climate justice, decolonisation and human wellbeing. Through research endeavours and fellowships, it covers urgent thematic areas such as climate adaptation, transboundary fisheries management, blue economy, human rights, indigenous rights, public health and food sovereignty.
“Critical to oceans equity is the understanding of the interface of oceans and human health,” says Dr Elaine Faustman, a professor at the University of Washington School of Public Health. “Too often we violate the construct that all peoples around the globe have a voice in defining wellbeing for themselves and their families, by dismissing the disproportional impacts of our actions and inactions in ocean governance on island and coastal communities”. Broadening the concept of health and wellbeing beyond absence of disease, the Center’s research defines the concepts of wellbeing within a context of cultural sustainability, ocean and human health supported with human rights, dignity and voice.
Another research project at the Ocean Nexus Center, led by Dr Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s School of Resource and Environmental Management, provides a novel global framework to understand how the role of human-versus-natural capital factors in achieving sustainable blue economies.
The project, published in Nature, examined the extent to which equitable and sustainability benefits of oceans — known as a blue economy — are likely to be achieved based on available resources and enabling governance conditions, including gender and group equality, corruption and national stability. The team found that socioeconomic and governance factors accounted for more of the difference in projected capacity to deliver a blue economy than available natural resources did. These differences can be seen throughout the developing world, but also within regions, including Europe and North America, currently focused more on growth than on equity and sustainability — precisely what a blue economy intends to avoid.
“The barrier to achieving equitable and sustainable development in oceans isn’t in finding the resources. The gaps we found are on the human and social side and in figuring out how those sectors can bring equitable benefits to people,” says Dr Cisneros-Montemayor. While the research showed a large number of countries struggling to put in place the necessary institutions and governance conditions, the power in shaping outcomes was actually a cause for optimism, as it puts agency in human hands.