Seascapes Study: A Blueprint for Building Blue Economies

June 8, 2021

New study draws on 15 years of lessons learned across five successful seascapes; scaling ocean conservation to support 30x30 goals

Arlington, VA (June 8, 2021) – New research published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice provides guidance for implementing large, sustainable and protected regions in ocean and coastal areas – effectively known as “seascapes.” The study, which draws from 15 years of ocean and coastal conservation efforts, found that successful seascapes share three overarching characteristics: well-designed process, durability and measurable outcomes. 

Authored by a group of 20 scientists and conservationists from Conservation International, the study, “Fifteen years of lessons from the seascape approach: A framework for improving ocean management at scale,” creates a blueprint for countries, communities and the private sector to improve marine protections and support the blue economy through the sustainable use of resources, improved livelihoods and ocean health. 

“There are few models of how to actually implement a blue economic vision that focuses on the sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth and ecosystem health in an equitable way,” said Laure Katz, technical director with Conservation International’s Center for Oceans. “Seascapes are, in practice, a way to build toward sustainable blue economies that support nature and people with a strong grounding in protection and equity.”

The seascape approach developed by Conservation International aims to link marine protected areas (MPAs) within a broader system of management and sustainable use. Seascapes are typically large, multiple-use marine areas that connect ocean and coastal habitats with complementary characteristics, thriving biodiversity, vibrant ecotourism and sustainable fishing practices. A key driver of a seascape is a coalition of partners working together to conserve marine life, slow climate change and promote human well-being. 

For the newly published study, the team of researchers conducted a survey of government officials, conservationists and on-the-ground community managers who are currently working or had previously worked in seascape environments. They found:

  • 85% of respondents agree the seascape approach enables strong social and political support ranging from local to regional;
  • 88.3% agree the seascape approach helps establish a legal framework that supports conservation and collaboration; and
  • 78.3% agree that seascapes advance successful ecosystem management.

Researchers also conducted an analysis of five successful long-term seascapes – Lau Seascape in Fiji, Abrolhos Seascape off the coast of Brazil, Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape where North and South America connect, Bird’s Head Seascape and Sulu-Sulawesi Seascape, both in Southeast Asia – to identify best practices for establishing and maintaining seascapes. 

These include:

  1. Garnering support across multiple levels of government including local, regional and national. Top-down and bottom-up collaboration is key to long-term success.
  2. Incorporating locally owned and community-led initiatives designed for the specific needs of the communities where the seascape is located, helps ensure sustainability and engagement.
  3. Cross-sector collaboration is essential for a successful seascape. A network of partners including governments, on-the-ground program implementers, NGOs providing environmental expertise and funders must work together.
  4. Securing diverse funding sources – from public, private and self-generating revenue sources – provides more flexibility while working toward seascape goals.
  5. Private sector engagement helps set incentives for improved and sustainable local production and governance. It also supports a self-sustaining effort and efficient economic model in the region.
  6. Effective transitions of NGO roles are an essential part of the ongoing development of a seascape; effective local governance is key to ensuring long-term success of a region.
  7. Robust monitoring and tangible results are needed to show a seascape’s role in generating ecological benefits, increasing incomes and improving human well-being.
  8. Effective storytelling helps show why seascapes matter and the impacts they have on the environment and local communities.

Not only can these lessons drive the creation of future seascapes, they can also support movement toward the global 30x30 goal, an initiative to protect 30% of land and 30% of sea by 2030. 

“Achieving ocean conservation at scale is a hugely ambitious task but it is a very important one,” said Shannon Murphy, seascape manager at Conservation International and lead author of the study. “The key to success lies in creating an environment where all of the moving pieces including governments, local communities, funders and NGOs work together to balance protection and production of ocean resources for the health of the planet and its people.”

Effectively conserving ocean ecosystems yields dramatic results for humanity: the ecosystems store carbon and help reduce climate change, sustain livelihoods for 10% of the world’s population and provide 20% of annual protein intake for nearly 3.3 billion people.

“This research on seascapes proves what we have long believed, which is that the future needs to be about nature and people thriving together,” said Heather D’Agnes, who leads the Oceans Program at the Walton Family Foundation, an early supporter and longtime advocate for the concept of seascapes and the benefits they provide. “We are particularly pleased to see the importance of community-led initiatives as a key ingredient for driving change. We believe that those closest to nature bring invaluable insight to conservation solutions.”

After 15 years of implementing the seascape approach in five geographies with varying contexts and barriers, this approach successfully demonstrates the importance of integrated planning, community-led and locally owned initiatives and a network of partners dedicated to a holistic seascape vision. The approach also demonstrates the potential for ecosystem health, human well-being and social, cultural and economic benefits.

“Seascapes have the potential to get us substantially closer to reaching the global 30x30 goal. They are a win-win approach for people and planet,” said Murphy. “The findings of our study will enable other entities to begin replicating the strategy in new regions around the globe.”

To read the study in full, including a closer look at each of the five seascapes included in the analysis, click here.

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About Conservation International

Conservation International works to protect the critical benefits that nature provides to people. Through science, partnerships and fieldwork, Conservation International is driving innovation and investments in nature-based solutions to the climate crisis, supporting protections for critical habitats, and fostering economic development that is grounded in the conservation of nature. We work in 30 countries around the world, empowering societies at all levels to create a cleaner, healthier and more sustainable planet. Follow Conservation International's work on Conservation NewsFacebook, TwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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