21 December 2020
By Dr Matt Fortnam, University of Exeter

Hard choices often need to be made when conducting marine planning. Choices between which sectors can operate where or when on the ocean, choices between benefiting one stakeholder group or another, or choices between which species and ecosystems to prioritise in management.

A GCRF Global Impact Acceleration Account project, supplementary to the Blue Communities project, spoke to technical staff at international and regional organisations working in Southeast Asia to understand how such choices, or trade-off decisions, are made in practice.
This research is being published in a forthcoming journal article. It will show that most existing decision support tools capture the ecological trade-offs in marine planning, but fail to identify most social trade-offs, especially non-economic trade-offs, such as the potential cultural changes brought about new interventions. Instead, social trade-offs are voiced by project participants and beneficiaries but that depends on whether all stakeholders participate or have a meaningful voice in project design and decision-making. Whether a trade-off is deemed acceptable or not can therefore depend on who has the most powerful voice rather than on moral and ethical grounds. Current decision-support tools, mainly developed in the West, were also considered to be too scientific and data hungry to be applied in remote rural contexts in the region.
Findings from this work have fed into the design of a new low-tech participatory tool, as part of Project 9 of Blue Communities. The tool aims to help marine planners understand the cultural, ethical, political and ecological acceptability of proposed policies and interventions, and develop options for mitigating or avoiding negative consequences.
We had hoped to pilot the tool in Vietnam at the Blue Communities annual meeting in July 2020 with partners and then, in Palawan with practitioners. However, because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19, we have been unable to undertake these pilots. As a consequence we have adapted the tool to be used virtually and will be piloting in early 2021 remotely.

To return to Blue Communities News December 2020, please click here.

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