About Nathan J. Bennett

Nathan J. Bennett (see nathanbennett.ca) is a post-doctoral fellow in the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of British Columbia. He conducts research on humans-environment interactions, conservation social sciences and environmental governance and management.

Recommendations for mainstreaming equity and justice in ocean organizations, policies and practice

Addressing equity and justice issues has become a central concern of ocean policy and sustainability efforts. Yet, 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 a new opinion editorial, I provide six recommendations for how marine conservation and development organizations can establish a strong internal foundation for mainstreaming equity and justice issues in external marine policies, practices, programs and portfolios. These recommendations include the following:

  1. Develop awareness of past equity and justice issues in marine policy spheres where the organization works.
  2. Explore how equity and justice are defined and can be operationalized in marine policy and practice (see Figure 1).
  3. Mainstream equity and justice in organizational policies, practices, programs, and portfolios.
  4. Increase organizational human dimensions capacity and ability to think socially.
  5. Support marine social science research and engage with evidence regarding the human dimensions.
  6. Commit to internal organizational equity, diversity and inclusion as a foundation for external equity and justice work. 

Creating strong organizational foundations is an important starting place and enabler for advancing equity and justice in the ocean. Read the editorial here.

Figure 1 – What is ocean equity?

Reference: 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/full

Webinar Recording – Equity and Justice in the Ocean

If you missed my recent talk on “Equity and Justice in the Ocean” hosted by the Marine Social Science Network, you can watch a recording here.

The oceans are experiencing a rapid acceleration of both conservation and development activities. When poorly implemented or left unchecked, these activities can lead to environmental and social injustices for the coastal communities and populations who inhabit and rely on the ocean for livelihoods, food security, and cultural survival. In this talk, I examine the types of social injustices that are occurring in the ocean, discuss how social equity can be taken into account in efforts to promote ocean sustainability, and explore priority areas for future marine social science research on equity and justice in the oceans. My aim is to encourage greater engagement with equity and justice considerations in all ocean-focused organizations and in all decision-making processes related to ocean governance and management.

This talk will draw from and build on a number of recent papers related to these topics:
• Bennett, N. J. (2018). Navigating a just and inclusive path towards sustainable oceans. Marine Policy, 97, 139–146. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2018.06.001
• Bennett, N. J et al. (2019). Just Transformations to Sustainability. Sustainability, 11(14), 3881. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11143881
• Bennett, N. J. et al. (2019). Towards a sustainable and equitable blue economy. Nature Sustainability. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-019-0404-1
• Bennett, N. J. et al. (2021). Advancing Social Equity in and Through Marine Conservation. Frontiers in Marine Science. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2021.711538
•Bennett, N. J. et al. (2021). Blue growth and blue justice: Ten risks and solutions for the ocean economy. Marine Policy, 125, 104387. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2020.104387

Smithsonian Talk – Conservation Social Science: Understanding and Integrating Human Dimensions into Biodiversity Conservation

If you missed it, here is a link to a recording of my recent talk for the Smithsonian Institution’s Working Land and Seascapes Initiative titled “Conservation Social Science: Understanding and Integrating Human Dimensions into Biodiversity Conservation”.

Event Overview: Greater engagement with the human dimensions of conservation can provide insights that will make meaningful improvements to conservation practice. The term “human dimensions” refers broadly to the set of social, economic, cultural, political, and institutional considerations related to a problem. The social sciences are one means through which we can seek to understand the human dimensions of conservation and make evidence-based decisions that support both humans and nature. This webinar will explore the disciplines, methods, theories, and contributions of the conservation social sciences and demonstrate how these tools can be applied to improve conservation policies and practice.

Speaker bio: Dr. Nathan J. Bennett is a researcher, a teacher, a facilitator and an independent consultant who works for various international organizations. He has published more than 60 academic papers and book chapters on the human dimensions of marine and terrestrial conservation, small-scale fisheries, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change, and governance of the blue economy. His work is global in scope – with past research projects in Canada, Mexico, Thailand, and around the Mediterranean Sea. He is also the Chair of the People and the Ocean Specialist Group for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

WLS Overview: Working Land and Seascapes (WLS), an Action Area of the Conservation Commons, is an initiative that support Smithsonian science in the service of humans and nature. WLS scientists collaborate with partners and communities across 13 countries to conduct interdisciplinary research and inspire action that fosters healthy, resilient, and productive landscapes and seascapes.

Link: https://fb.watch/48LPOFdunK/

New Paper – Blue Growth and Blue Justice: Ten risks and solutions for the ocean economy

Rapid and unchecked economic development in the ocean can produce substantial risks for people and the environment. But, what harms or social injustices might be produced by the ocean economy? This is the question that we examine in our new paper “Blue growth and blue justice: Ten risks and solutions for the ocean economy” published today in Marine Policy. Through this critical analysis, our aim is to stimulate a rigorous dialogue on how to achieve a more just and inclusive ocean economy.

Abstract: The oceans are increasingly viewed as a new frontier for economic development. Yet, as companies and governments race to capitalize on marine resources, substantial risks can arise for people and the environment. The dominant discourse that frames blue growth as beneficial for the economy, developing nations, and coastal communities risks downplaying the uneven distribution of benefits and potential harms. Civil society organizations and academics alike have been sounding the alarm about the social justice implications of rapid and unchecked ocean development. Here, we review existing literature to highlight ten social injustices that might be produced by blue growth: 1) dispossession, displacement and ocean grabbing; 2) environmental justice concerns from pollution and waste; 3) environmental degradation and reduction of ecosystem services; 4) livelihood impacts for small-scale fishers; 5) lost access to marine resources needed for food security and well-being; 6) inequitable distribution of economic benefits; 7) social and cultural impacts; 8) marginalization of women; 9) human and Indigenous rights abuses; and, 10) exclusion from governance. Through this critical review, we aim to stimulate a rigorous dialogue on future pathways to achieve a more just and inclusive ocean economy. We contend that a commitment to ‘blue justice’ must be central to the blue growth agenda, which requires greater attention to addressing the 10 risks that we have highlighted, and propose practical actions to incorporate recognitional, procedural, and distributional justice into the future ocean economy. However, achieving a truly just ocean economy may require a complete transformation of the blue growth paradigm.

Reference: Bennett, N. J., Blythe, J., White, C. S., & Campero, C. (2021). Blue growth and blue justice: Ten risks and solutions for the ocean economy. Marine Policy, 125, 104387. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X20310381 

An open access pre-print of the paper is also available at this link: https://fisheries.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2020/06/Take2-2020-02-WP_Blue-Growth-and-Blue-Justice-IOF-Working-Paper.pdf

If you prefer to watch a video: https://youtu.be/Snhl355oJnA

Mobilizing in support of small-scale fisheries impacted by COVID-19

Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly spread around the world with extensive social and economic effects for the small-scale fisheries sector and coastal communities. Much of the news is dismal for the more than 100 million people working as small-scale fishers or in post-harvest jobs. Documented negative consequences have included complete shut-downs, market disruptions, increased health risks, further marginalization, exacerbated vulnerabilities, and increased illegal fishing. Some positive outcomes have also emerged such as food sharing, the revival of local food networks, increases in local sales, collective actions to safeguard rights, collaborations between communities and governments, and reduced fishing pressure in some places. Yet, we are concerned that the collective response thus far is insufficient to meet the scale and nature of the impacts that are being experienced by the small-scale fisheries sector. Thus, we urge governments, development organizations, NGOs, donors, the private sector, and researchers to rapidly mobilize in support of small-scale fishers and coastal fishing communities

Actions to support small-scale fisheries during and after COVID-19

Recommendations: Suggested responses include:

  1. Governments and development organizations can protect workers, safeguard supply chains, augment social and health services, provide economic relief, and prioritize re-opening small-scale fisheries.
  2. NGOs can aggregate insights, mobilize financial resources and personnel, support market development, advocate for SSFs, and coordinate activities.
  3. Donors can identify options to support, re-orient funding programs, be flexible with already allocated funds, and target funds to support SSF.
  4. The private sector can protect the safety of workers, strengthen social safeguards, source from SSFs, and ensure market access.
  5. Researchers can research social impacts, identify solutions, communicate recommendations, support advocacy, and re-orient research projects and funds.



The COVID-19 pandemic is having substantial impacts on the small-scale fisheries sector globally. Thus, we urge governments, development organizations, NGOs, donors, the private sector, and researchers to rapidly mobilize in support of small-scale fishers and coastal fishing communities.


*For more information, please refer to the following open access paper: Bennett, N. J., Finkbeiner, E., Ban, N. C., Belhabib, D., Jupiter, S. D., Kittinger, J. N., Mangubhai, S., Scholtens, J., Gill, D., & Christie, P. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic, small-scale fisheries and coastal fishing communities. Coastal Management. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08920753.2020.1766937

A PDF of this Policy Brief can be found here: POLICY BRIEF – Mobilizing in support of small-scale fisheries impacted by COVID-19

If you have any questions, please contact me.


New Paper in Nature Sustainability: Towards a sustainable and equitable blue economy

A global group of collaborators and I just published a new paper in Nature Sustainability titled “Towards a sustainable and equitable blue economy“.

In this paper, we argue that “The global rush to develop the ‘blue economy’ risks harming both the marine environment and human wellbeing. Bold policies and actions are urgently needed. We identify five priorities to chart a course towards an environmentally sustainable and socially equitable blue economy.”

Figure 1 - Economic development in the oceans

Our five recommendations, which are summarized in our press release, include:


  • Establishing a global coordinating body and develop international guidelines;
  • Ensuring national policies and institutions safeguard sustainability;
  • Promoting equitable sharing of benefits and minimization of harms;
  • Employing inclusive governance and decision-making processes; and
  • Engaging with insights from interdisciplinary ocean science.


Read the paper here: rdcu.be/bUfM8

Accompanying press release: Achieving a safe and just future for the ocean economy

Five Steps to Achieve a Safe & Just Future Ocean Economy

Policy Brief: Marine Social Science and Ocean Sustainability

Figure 1 - The coastal margin

Around the world, the marine and coastal environment is occupied, used and relied on by coastal communities, small-scale fishers, and Indigenous peoples.

Background: Marine protected areas, marine spatial planning, fisheries management, climate adaptation and economic development activities are increasing across the world’s oceans. Coastal communities, indigenous peoples, and small-scale fishers also occupy, use and rely on the ocean and coastal environment for livelihoods, for sustenance, and for wellbeing. An understanding of the human dimensions of the peopled seas is required to make informed marine policy and management decisions. A diverse set of social science disciplines, methods, and theories can be applied to rigorously study the human dimensions of ocean and coastal issues and challenges. Insights from the marine social sciences include:

  1. Documenting the social context (eg, uses, benefits, values, rights, knowledge, culture) to inform planning and management;
  2. Characterizing and evaluating the appropriateness and effectiveness of governance processes and management actions;
  3. Assessing the impacts of conservation, management or development activities on coastal economics and human well-being; and,
  4. Identifying the social and institutional factors that influence people’s behaviours, actions or responses to identify effective interventions.

The marine social sciences must be part of the mandate and investments of national and international ocean science, policy and sustainability initiatives. Yet, marine social science often receives limited attention and investments from ocean-focused government agencies, NGOs and funders.


Recommendations: Recommended actions include:

  1. Policy-makers, managers and practitioners need to account for the human dimensions in all marine conservation, marine planning, fisheries management and ocean development decisions.
  2. Governments should ensure that ocean-focused laws, policies and planning processes require the consideration of social, cultural, economic and governance considerations.
  3. National and international ocean science and sustainability initiatives, such as the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), must include social science in their mandates and investments.
  4. Financial support is needed from ocean-focused government agencies, multi-lateral organizations, NGOs and funders for capacity, programs and infrastructure to enable applied and policy-relevant marine social science research.



The pursuit of sustainable oceans must be informed by insights from the marine social sciences.

Recent years have seen significant growth in conservation, management and development activities in the ocean. Coastal communities, indigenous peoples, and small-scale fishers also occupy and rely on the ocean for livelihoods, for subsistence, and for wellbeing. Thus, an understanding of the human dimensions is required to make evidence-based decisions across marine policy realms. Greater support for marine social science programs and capacity are needed from ocean-focused government agencies, NGOs, and funders.


A PDF Version of this Policy Brief is available here: Policy Brief – Marine Social Science and Ocean Sustainability

For more information regarding this topic, see the following paper: N Bennett (2019), Marine Social Science for the Peopled Seas, Coastal Management, 47(2), 244-252. (Link)


Contact: Dr. Nathan Bennett (linkis the Chair of the People and the Ocean Specialist Group of the Commission on Ecological, Economic and Social Policy of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (link) and the Principal Investigator of The Peopled Seas Initiative.

New Paper – Navigating a just and inclusive path towards sustainable oceans

I just published a new paper in Marine Policy titled “Navigating a just and inclusive path towards sustainable oceans” (link to paper). This agenda setting paper argues that the ocean science, practitioner, governance and funding communities need to pay greater attention to justice and inclusion across key ocean policy realms including marine conservation, fisheries management, marine spatial planning, the blue economy, climate adaptation and global ocean governance.

Reference: N.J. Bennett, Navigating a just and inclusive path towards sustainable oceans, Marine Policy. (2018). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2018.06.001

Abstract: The ocean is the next frontier for many conservation and development activities. Growth in marine protected areas, fisheries management, the blue economy, and marine spatial planning initiatives are occurring both within and beyond national jurisdictions. This mounting activity has coincided with increasing concerns about sustainability and international attention to ocean governance. Yet, despite growing concerns about exclusionary decision-making processes and social injustices, there remains inadequate attention to issues of social justice and inclusion in ocean science, management, governance and funding. In a rapidly changing and progressively busier ocean, we need to learn from past mistakes and identify ways to navigate a just and inclusive path towards sustainability. Proactive attention to inclusive decision-making and social justice is needed across key ocean policy realms including marine conservation, fisheries management, marine spatial planning, the blue economy, climate adaptation and global ocean governance for both ethical and instrumental reasons. This discussion paper aims to stimulate greater engagement with these critical topics. It is a call to action for ocean-focused researchers, policy-makers, managers, practitioners, and funders.