The Ecosystem Approach To Marine Planning and Management


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Keywords: ecosystem management, marine spatial planning, Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, marine protected areas (MPAs)

Provisions for marine planning form a key component of the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 and the planning process has already commenced in some parts of the country. A book on The Ecosystem Approach to Marine Planning and Management is therefore timely. The book is based on a seminar series funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Natural Environment Research Council. The three editors, all from Liverpool University, have backgrounds in town planning, physical geography and marine biology respectively. The 30 other contributors (24 of whom are UK based) come from a variety of disciplines including coastal zone management, ecology, economics, environmental management, fisheries, geo-sciences, nature conservation, oceanography and spatial planning, and include both academics and practitioners.

One of the key strengths of the book claimed by the editors is its transdisciplinary approach to the subject. Because the whole focus of the UK's marine planning initiatives is to deliver sustainable development through an integrated approach to managing activities while safeguarding the marine environment, there is a clear need to consider issues in the round and from a full range of perspectives. As a participant in one of the seminars, I can vouchsafe for the multidisciplinary composition of the group and the stimulus this gave to the discussions, but the 'buzz' this achieved does not come across in the book. The editors have done their best to present a transdisciplinary outlook by assuring that each chapter reflects the joint efforts of authors from different backgrounds but this has been done with varying degrees of success because multidisciplinarity does not necessarily lead to transdisciplinary outputs.

The first chapter, which sets the scene for the book by addressing the ecosystem approach in its marine planning and management context, is the most successful and provides a good overview and analysis. It presents a brief history of the ecosystem approach and explains the principles underpinning it. The authors then review experience of its use in both marine and non-marine situations and use this background material as a springboard for discussing key issues that will need to be resolved as the approach develops in a marine context. These issues are grouped into three themes reflecting the other chapters in the book covering the human dimension, information challenges and connecting to the wider agenda. The discussion under the first of these themes covers the need to develop objectives that reflect societal choice and the role of stakeholder engagement. The second theme encompasses a wide range of information challenges including social issues, such as the spatial and temporal scales of decision-making and the need to ensure there is the capacity for adaptive management, and scientific problems such as our lack of understanding of how ecosystems function and the issues of complexity and uncertainty. The short discussion under the wider agenda theme looks at the connection between marine and terrestrial planning. There is little discussion of law in this chapter but there is a tantalising reference in the discussion of the nature of the ecosystem approach to the observation that there is a gap between traditional environmental laws and policies which tend to be based on the 'past equilibrium paradigm' of ecosystems and current 'non-equilibrium' views that are central to the ecosystem approach. The need to encompass flexibility within legislation while at the same time retaining a sufficiently tight focus on desired outcomes is likely to be an extremely important determinant of the success of legal frameworks for implementing the ecosystem approach and it is a shame that there was not more in-depth discussion of this issue.

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