What is Environmental Stewardship?: New Open Access Review Paper

Environmental stewardship is a valuable and holistic concept for guiding productive and sustained relationships with the environment. A group of colleagues and I have just published a new open access paper in the journal Environmental Management titled: “Environmental Stewardship: A conceptual review and analytical framework“. In this paper, we define local environmental stewardship as “the actions taken by individuals, groups or networks of actors, with various motivations and levels of capacity, to protect, care for or responsibly use the environment in pursuit of environmental and/or social outcomes in diverse social–ecological contexts.” We review the literature to provide a framework to guide analysis of local environmental stewardship initiatives in diverse contexts and situations.

Environmental stewardship

Abstract: There has been increasing attention to and investment in local environmental stewardship in conservation and environmental management policies and programs globally. Yet environmental stewardship has not received adequate conceptual attention. Establishing a clear definition and comprehensive analytical framework could strengthen our ability to understand the factors that lead to the success or failure of environmental stewardship in different contexts and how to most effectively support and enable local efforts. Here we propose such a definition and framework. First, we define local environmental stewardship as the actions taken by individuals, groups or networks of actors, with various motivations and levels of capacity, to protect, care for or responsibly use the environment in pursuit of environmental and/or social outcomes in diverse social–ecological contexts. Next, drawing from a review of the environmental stewardship, management and governance literatures, we unpack the elements of this definition to develop an analytical framework that can facilitate research on local environmental stewardship. Finally, we discuss potential interventions and leverage points for promoting or supporting local stewardship and future applications of the framework to guide descriptive, evaluative, prescriptive or systematic analysis of environmental stewardship. Further application of this framework in diverse environmental and social contexts is recommended to refine the elements and develop insights that will guide and improve the outcomes of environmental stewardship initiatives and investments. Ultimately, our aim is to raise the profile of environmental stewardship as a valuable and holistic concept for guiding productive and sustained relationships with the environment.

Reference: Bennett, N. J., Whitty, T. S., Finkbeiner, E., Pittman, J., Bassett, H., Gelcich, S., & Allison, E. H. (2018). Environmental Stewardship: A Conceptual Review and Analytical Framework. Environmental Management. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-017-0993-2 (OPEN ACCESS)

How the popularity of sea cucumbers is threatening coastal communities

Coastal communities are struggling with the complex social and ecological impacts of a growing global hunger for a seafood delicacy, according to a new study from the University of British Columbia.

“Soaring demand has spurred sea cucumber booms across the globe,” says lead author Mary Kaplan-Hallam, who conducted the research as a master’s student with the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability (IRES) at UBC.

“For many coastal communities, sea cucumber isn’t something that was harvested in the past. Fisheries emerged rapidly. Money, buyers and fishers from outside the community flooded in. This has also increased pressure on other already overfished resources.”

Sea cucumber can sell for hundreds–sometimes thousands–of dollars a pound. The “gold rush” style impacts of high-value fisheries exacerbate longer-term trends in already vulnerable communities, such as declines in traditional fish stocks, population increases, climate change and illegal fishing.

“These boom-and-bust cycles occur across a range of resource industries,” says co-author Nathan Bennett, a postdoctoral fellow at UBC. “What makes these fisheries so tricky is that they appear rapidly and often deplete local resources just as rapidly, leaving communities with little time to recover.”

Sea cucumber fishing season 2016 (Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatan, Mexico). Credit: Eva Coronado, National Polytechnic Institute, Mexico.

Sea cucumber fishing season 2016 (Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatan, Mexico). Credit: Eva Coronado, National Polytechnic Institute, Mexico.

The researchers based their findings on a case study of Río Lagartos, a fishing community on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. For the past 50 years, small-scale commercial fishing has been the dominant livelihood of the community.

The town’s first commercial sea cucumber permits were issued in 2013, a significant economic opportunity for fishers in the region. The leathery marine animals are a delicacy in many parts of Asia, and as stocks have depleted there, demand has rapidly depleted fisheries across the globe.

A host of new challenges emerged in Río Lagartos as the sea cucumbers attracted outside fishers, money and patrons, according to the researchers’ interviews with community members.

“Resource management, incomes, fisher health and safety, levels of social conflict and social cohesion in the community are all impacted,” says Kaplan-Hallam. “The potential financial rewards are also causing local fishers to take bigger risks as sea cucumber stocks are depleted and diving must occur further from shore, with dire health consequences.”

Unfortunately, say the authors, this isn’t an isolated situation.

“There are many examples around the world where elite global seafood markets–abalone, sea urchins, sharks–are undermining local sustainability,” says Bennett. “If we want to sustainably manage fisheries with coastal communities, we need a better understanding of how global seafood markets impact communities and how to manage these impacts quickly. Think of it like an epidemic: it requires a rapid response before it gets out of control.”

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The study “Catching sea cucumber fever in coastal communities” is published in Global Environmental Change

The research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, MITACS, the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship program, and the Liber Ero Fellowship program.

New article: An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservation

An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservation - Bennett et al 2017 Marine Policy

A group of colleagues and I have just published an open access paper titled “An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservation” in Marine Policy. In this paper, we propose that:

  • Poor governance and social issues can jeopardize the legitimacy of, support for and long-term effectiveness of marine conservation.
  • A comprehensive set of social standards is needed to provide a solid platform for conservation actions.
  • This paper reviews key principles and identifies next steps in developing a code of conduct for marine conservation.
  • The objectives of a code of conduct are to promote fair, just and accountable marine conservation.
  • A code of conduct will enable marine conservation to be both socially acceptable and ecologically effective.

Abstract: Marine conservation actions are promoted to conserve natural values and support human wellbeing. Yet the quality of governance processes and the social consequences of some marine conservation initiatives have been the subject of critique and even human rights complaints. These types of governance and social issues may jeopardize the legitimacy of, support for and long-term effectiveness of marine conservation. Thus, we argue that a clearly articulated and comprehensive set of social standards – a code of conduct – is needed to guide marine conservation. In this paper, we draw on the results of an expert meeting and scoping review to present key principles that might be taken into account in a code of conduct, to propose a draft set of foundational elements for inclusion in a code of conduct, to discuss the benefits and challenges of such a document, and to propose next steps to develop and facilitate the uptake of a broadly applicable code of conduct within the marine conservation community. The objectives of developing such a code of conduct are to promote fair conservation governance and decision-making, socially just conservation actions and outcomes, and accountable conservation practitioners and organizations. The uptake and implementation of a code of conduct would enable marine conservation to be both socially acceptable and ecologically effective, thereby contributing to a truly sustainable ocean.

Press releases and coverage

Policy Brief: An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservation (PDF LINK)

Reference: Bennett, N.J., Teh, L., Ota, Y., Christie, P., Ayers, A., Day, J.C., Franks, P., Gill, D., Gruby, R.L., Kittinger, J.N., Koehn, J.Z., Lewis, N., Parks, J., Vierros, M., Whitty, T.S., Wilhelm, A., Wright, K., Aburto, J.A., Finkbeiner, E.M., Gaymer, C.F., Govan, H., Gray, N., Jarvis, R.M., Kaplan-Hallam, M. & Satterfield, T. (2017). An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservationMarine Policy, 81, 411–418. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2017.03.035 [OPEN ACCESS]