Integrating climate change in ocean planning

Few of the existing marine spatial plans consider climate change explicitly. We argue this is a critical oversight in a rapidly changing world and point to ways this could be addressed.

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A new Review paper was published this week in Nature Sustainability, exploring the links between marine spatial planning (MSP), climate change and ocean sustainability. The idea behind this paper was born in late 2015, when myself (CFS) and Rui Rosa began discussing the interconnections between our fields of research. I was finalising a doctoral dissertation on ocean planning and policy, Rui had long established a research team on global environmental change. Over the following year we asked a number of friends and colleagues to join us in this discussion—Tundi Agardy, Francisco Andrade, Manuel Barange, Larry Crowder, Charles (Bud) Ehler, and Mike Orbach. Together, we wrote a correspondence to Nature Geosciencehighlighting some of the pathways that linked climate impacts, ocean uses, and MSP.  

Imprinted in our minds, though, was the notion that a more in-depth, thorough conversation on the topic was needed both within the scientific community and with policymakers, lawmakers, marine planners and managers. Indeed, there was already a number of studies addressing MSP and climate change, from brief references to full discussions. But somewhat to our surprise, a coherent and clear set of messages and guidelines on how to integrate climate change in MSP was missing. Perhaps also because of this, in practice, few marine spatial plans included climate change considerations. A systematic review and critical analysis of existing information was, therefore, strikingly needed.  

Conceptual model
Conceptual model of the links between MSP and climate change (from our review paper).

Early in 2018 we were granted funding by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology to develop a research project on how MSP could be affected by, and adapt to climate change. More people joined the conversation, from very experienced senior scientists—Elena Gissi, Helena Calado, Benjamin Halpern, and Hans-Otto Pörtner—to early career researchers—Sara García-Morales, developing her master thesis on adaptive approaches for MSP. 

By then, we started presenting the project ideas in international meetings. In one of these meetings, the Effects of Climate Change in the World’s Ocean—ECCWO'18, we met visual artist Bas Kohler. We were amazed by his work and asked him to draw us a cartoon to communicate the project ideas in a different format. We liked it so much that we then decided to add it to our paper (see below). In the same year, our work was recognised with an award at the ICES Anual Science Conference. We felt both honoured and encouraged. A funny story, though, is that we were not present at the ASC's closing ceremony (as you can see in this video) and only found out about the award two weeks later! On a positive note, we got to hear very kind words by Simon Jennings in the video (c. minute 4:00). It was at this point that we submitted a Synopsis for a Review paper to Nature Sustainability. 

ECCWO'18
Catarina and Rui at the ECCWO'18 International Symposium (Washington DC, US) admiring daily cartoons drawn by Bas Kohler. Photo by PICES.
Cartoon MSP-CC
Cartoon created by visual artist Bas Kohler illustrating the challenge of meeting multiple objectives in an increasingly crowded and changing ocean—a challenge MSP will have to deal with.

Following the Synopsis acceptance we began the writing process. The first step was to refresh our systematic literature review. We had developed a preliminary one already, but new papers arise so fast that we had to update out database twice during the writing process. After going through existing literature and identifying emerging topics, I went for a "writing retreat" in the Azores and prepared the manuscript first draft—which was then heavily discussed, commented and modified by all authors. Because we were all scattered among different countries (Portugal, Italy, Germany, France and US), the development of our paper was largely based on remote discussions and exchange of ideas—by email and Skype calls. It is a good example of how scientists can effectively communicate and develop collaborative work at distance. 

Attention to the need for climate-ready MSP is increasing. During 2019, while working on the paper, specific sessions on MSP and climate change took place at the MSPglobal forum in Latvia (Workshop "Participants Choice") and the Ocean Visions Climate Summit in the US (Session 4). A scientific article was also published, addressing how climate change is included (or not) in marine spatial plans in Europe. Our paper felt therefore very timely, in order to push the discussion forward. 

As MSP operates in a changing ocean, properly addressing and integrating climate effects is vital. But this is a complex topic, full of intricacies, dimensions and challenges (scientific, socioeconomic, political) and multiple solutions will be needed. We highlight and point to ways forward, based on real examples around the globe, to support sustainable marine planning in a changing ocean. 

You can read the full paper (freely) here!

Pico_Mountain
In the Azores, Faial Island, writing the first draft of our paper, while looking at the Pico Mountain in an unusual clear day.

Poster image by Alamy Stock Photo. 

Catarina Frazão Santos

Research Scientist and Lecturer, University of Lisbon

Catarina Frazão Santos is a Researcher Scientist and Lecturer at the University of Lisbon, Marine and Environmental Sciences Center-MARE, and an Invited Researcher at NOVA-SBE, Environmental Economics Knowledge Center. With a PhD on ocean policy and planning, her research focuses on marine spatial planning, sustainable ocean governance, and marine social-ecological systems vulnerability to human stressors.

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