The international legal framework for the management of the global oceans social-ecological system

Published on
March 29, 2016

The paper of Emanuele Bigagli: The international legal framework for the management of the global oceans social-ecological system, has been published in Marine Policy, Volume 68, pp 155 - 164.

DOI: 10.1016/j.marpol.2016.03.005


This paper evaluates the international agreements in place for the protection of the environment and the regulation of human activities taking place in world's oceans and seas. 500 multilateral agreements were reviewed against a framework of reference, grounded on the theoretical approaches of Adaptive Management and Transition Management. According to this framework, oceans complex systems management should: (1) consider the global oceans as a Social-Ecological System (SES); (2) aim to achieve or maintain their ecological resilience; and (3) implement iterative, learning-based management strategies, supported by science-based advice to policy and management. The results show that the present international legal framework for the global oceans does not require countries to adopt an adaptive, complex systems approach for global oceans ecological resilience. Instead, this study supports the perspective of a double fragmentation among international agreements. First, global agreements focus on issue-based objectives for determined human activities, ecological components or anthropogenic pressures. Second, regional agreements have a wider scope, but also a varying level of inclusion of ecological resilience considerations. There is the need to foster the inclusion of such an approach into existing and future international agreements and their implementation, including through soft-law, project-based initiatives at global and regional scales.

Keywords: International law; Social-ecological systems; Ecological resilience; Oceans; UNCLOS