10 July 2020
By Prof. Mel Austen, Programme Director, University of Plymouth

Welcome to this July 2020 edition of the GCRF Blue Communities Newsletter. As you will read, despite the Covid19 pandemic, researchers from our 10 project partners, often working closely with stakeholders, continue to work on their research and capability building.

Crucially, the health and safety of partners and stakeholders has always been and still is our biggest priority. Before the pandemic, fieldwork was underway or planned in all our case study sites. Some had to be curtailed, such as in Taka Bonerate (Indonesia), or postponed. In Cu Lao Cham (Vietnam), the research teams from Hanoi National University of Education have been able to resume their field work. A scenario training workshop to be held in Indonesia had to be rapidly moved to ‘online’ format, which was challenging but all involved still managed to deliver and receive training and learn some useful lessons. Others have taken the opportunity to analyse research results and write these up for publications. Throughout this time, and still, my thoughts and sympathies lie with all those people around the world who have been and are being directly or indirectly affected by Covid19.

As always, when I write these newsletters, I end up reflecting that I am immensely proud of our Blue Communities partnership and of what they do. Dr Vikki Cheung (Project Manager) and I, working with partner and project leads, continuously report and review our progress. I am always very excited to read the regular reports from Case Study leads and Project leads. In anticipation of this years’ Annual Meeting I have been reviewing our progress and broadly, despite Covid19, we are reasonably well on track. But it is important for us to ensure that we are achieving the aims and objectives that we intended, particularly to grow capability to support planning for better management of the marine environment that supports sustainable health, wellbeing and livelihoods of coastal communities and the environment. Last year I made a qualitative analysis (which I can back up with evidence!) of progress in activities that we committed to do to further the research and specifically to grow capability across the partnership, I have recently updated it:

Blue Communities partners work closely with coastal community stakeholders at the local case study sites of the three Biosphere Reserves and Sabah Marine Park. We also engage with national and regional stakeholders. As part of our monitoring and evaluation, it is important to us (and our funders) that we check what impact we are having on our stakeholders. We are working at developing ways of doing this better (part of our own capacity building) but welcome any feedback on what impact we are making and what we could do better, as well as any ways we can better understand what impact we are having.

Another piece of news is that this month the Blue Communities Project Office (myself and Dr Vikki Cheung) have moved to the University of Plymouth along with Co-Investigators and Project leads Dr Caroline Hattam and Dr Tara Hooper. After many years at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) I have moved ‘up the road’ to develop new opportunities, bring some of my perspectives to the University, and learn and build from the people and their perspectives there. PML remains an integral and vital part of Blue Communities, our strong and deep collaboration will continue and hopefully, I can act to extend collaborative partnerships within Plymouth but also much more widely.

Change for me has been quite cathartic. I reflect that at this time of the pandemic there has been much change and there is a huge amount of uncertainty for the coastal communities that we work with, and worldwide. There is a lot of talk in the media about grasping the opportunity to change how we do things going forward, by addressing climate change and biodiversity loss and their impacts, and by seeking renewed and sustainable green growth. Coastal communities need  blue growth that is sustainable for society but also for the marine environment, on which they depend.

As the pandemic started to unfold, Blue Communities participants started asking and discussing how we can help our coastal community stakeholders. Through the large and close network that we have built among both established and early career researchers, and the support it provides, I sense that many of us in Blue Communities  have gained in self-confidence. This has helped us during the physical isolation of lockdown. We know that if we have some ideas for new research or challenges for discussion, we can email each other or meet virtually online. Not only do we have greater confidence to reach out to each other, but also to our local, national and regional stakeholders. Now is the time for us to use our partnership and its network to make sure that the Blue Communities research that is underway is truly relevant and useful, and to be willing to find new ways that we can use our research skills to support and help coastal communities. If any of our coastal community stakeholders think we might be able to support them with our research, please do contact us. That is what our research is for, that is why we do Blue Communities research. 
Blue Communities Zoom meetings

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18 June 2020

By Dr Quyen Van Nguyen, Hanoi National University of Education  2020 is the year with a...

Designing a new tool to reconcile marine planning trade-offs

17 June 2020

By Dr Matt Fortnam, University of Exeter  Marine planning seeks to reconcile multiple...

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