Re-imagining marine conservation through centering social equity
Nathan Bennett, Chair of the People and the Ocean Specialist Group, Commission on Environmental, Economic, and Social Policy, IUCN
There are too many examples of marine conservation initiatives that resulted in disenfranchisement, abrupt displacement, undermining of human rights, and outright exclusion of local and Indigenous communities. A different approach to marine conservation is possible and within reach. Re-imagining marine conservation through centering social equity will align practice with policy, create allies, and enable greater effectiveness. In this article, Nathan Bennett makes six recommendations for establishing a strong internal foundation for advancing social equity.
Many past marine conservation practices were largely developed without considering justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Humans were viewed separate from nature. The knowledge of Indigenous and small-scale fishers was often dismissed. And Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs), who had rights to and relied on areas for food security and livelihoods, were left out of decisions that directly impacted them.
There are too many examples of marine conservation initiatives that resulted in disenfranchisement, abrupt displacement, undermining of human rights, and outright exclusion of local and Indigenous communities. Understandably, this has resulted in conflict and opposition to marine conservation in many places. Yet, we need more allies to achieve biodiversity conservation.
A different approach to marine conservation is possible and within reach. In the coming quadrennium, the IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP) is focusing on “Reimagining Conservation”.
A re-imagined marine conservation embraces and advances social equity in both governance and management – in line with the text contained within the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11 and Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. A re-imagined marine conservation acknowledges and places local people’s rights, livelihoods, knowledge, needs and visions for the future at the center of marine conservation efforts. A re-imagined marine conservation rests on decision-making processes that are participatory and collaborative. A re-imagined marine conservation places management authority and leadership with the communities who are most intimately connected to and rely on the ocean - for example, in the form of Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) and Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs) which are designated and managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs).
There is a critical gap that must be addressed to achieve more equitable marine conservation. Even though the mainstreaming of social equity has become a central concern of ocean sustainability efforts, many ocean-focused governmental, non-governmental and funding organizations often lack the foundational knowledge, mandate, capacity, and diversity to be able to adequately account for and address equity and justice issues in their policies, practices, programs, and funding portfolios.
Six recommendations to help marine conservation to overcome this gap and establish a strong internal foundation for advancing social equity are:
- Develop awareness of past equity and justice issues in marine policy spheres where the organization works;
- Explore how equity and justice are defined and can be operationalized in marine policy and practice;
- Mainstream equity and justice in organizational policies, practices, programs, and portfolios;
- Increase organizational human dimensions capacity and ability to think socially;
- Support marine social science research and engage with evidence regarding the human dimensions; and,
- Commit to internal organizational equity, diversity and inclusion as a foundation for external equity and justice work.
Re-imagining marine conservation through centering social equity will align practice with policy, create allies, and enable greater effectiveness. An important starting place for marine conservation organizations is to establish a strong internal foundation for this work.
Bennett, N. J. (2022). Mainstreaming Equity and Justice in the Ocean. Frontiers in Marine Science, 9. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2022.873572
Bennett, N. J., Katz, L., Yadao-Evans, W., Ahmadia, G. N., Atkinson, S., Ban, N. C., Dawson, N. M., de Vos, A., Fitzpatrick, J., Gill, D., Imirizaldu, M., Lewis, N., Mangubhai, S., Meth, L., Muhl, E.-K., Obura, D., Spalding, A. K., Villagomez, A., Wagner, D., … Wilhelm, A. (2021). Advancing social equity in and through marine conservation. Frontiers in Marine Science, 8, 711538. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.711538