FNP joins Ocean Nexus Center in studying social equity in marine nature restoration

20 juli 2020

The Ocean Nexus Center partners with over 20 universities and institutions across the world. Wageningen University and Research is one such partner.

Photo: Earthlab UW
Photo: Earthlab UW

The FNP Group of Wageningen UR is joining a research partnership with The Nippon Foundation Ocean Nexus Center, a new interdisciplinary research group that studies changes, responses and solutions to societal issues that emerge in relationship with the oceans. The Ocean Nexus Center is housed in University of Washington’s EarthLab, an institute established in 2015 to connect research with community partners to discover equitable solutions to our most complex environmental challenges.

To date, researchers from 20 other universities from around the world, in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Malaysia and more, have already signed on to new interdisciplinary projects with Ocean Nexus. Topics cover a range of issues including ocean acidification adaptation, sustainable development of oceans, ocean sovereignty for island nations, and gender in ocean governance.

Based at FNP, project PI Dr. Annet Pauwelussen leads the Ocean Nexus project on social equity and ontological multiplicity in marine nature restoration (2020-2022), in collaboration with Professor Esther Turnhout (FNP) and researcher Sallie Lau of the University of Washington.

In 2019 the United Nations issued a global call to action to restore the worlds degraded ecosystems, including marine forests (mangroves) and coral reefs, the ‘rainforests of the sea’. The current shift from hands-off protection by establishing marine parks to hands-on interventions to rehabilitate reefs and mangroves through breeding, transplanting and eco-engineering leads to different concepts of nature and naturalness.

Coral breeding and transplantation site, Bali (Pauwelussen)
Coral breeding and transplantation site, Bali (Pauwelussen)

"Calls for equitable rehabilitation programs require an active engagement with and by local and indigenous peoples as well interdisciplinary dialogue", says Dr. Pauwelussen. "This comes with diversity in how human-nature relations are understood, valued and enacted. This project aims to better understand the barriers and opportunities to establish dialogues across epistemological and ontological differences in marine nature restoration".

Researchers already know that environmental changes, such as pollution, coastal erosion and ocean acidification, can cause health and economic impacts on communities. They also know that nature restoration and conservation is necessary for sustainable and healthy ocean futures. But scientists and decision-makers still do not have all of the information to implement solutions that are responsive to multiplicity and take into account those most in need.
To do this, and to enable equitable collaborations in marine conservation, it is important to acknowledge the structural power differences involved in who and what knowledges and world views are taken into account during decision-making, or rendered invisible instead. Drawing from ethnographic data from Indonesia and other places, the FNP-based project illustrates how asymmetries and power relations present themselves and interact, in the context of ecological knowledge creation and environmental care. It will look at how feminist theory and decolonial methodologies can help rethink and reframe debates on human-ocean relations and its existing binaries and structural asymmetries. In line with Ocean Nexus, the researchers hope to draw lessons for more democratic and equitable forms of environmental governance.

Coastal fishing village sheltered by mangrove forest, Kalimantan (Pauwelussen)
Coastal fishing village sheltered by mangrove forest, Kalimantan (Pauwelussen)

"Ocean Nexus exists to bridge the gap between decision makers, policy makers and the communities most affected and dependent on the oceans," said Yoshitaka Ota, the Center’s director and a research assistant professor in UW School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. "This is a chance to do something bold and really push the boundaries of understanding our relationship with oceans, and that’s what I’m excited to do."

Based on the philosophy of passing on sustainable oceans to future generations, The Nippon Foundation of Tokyo has been working for over three decades with governments, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations and research institutions to foster 1,430 ocean professionals from 150 countries.

"The sustenance of humanity depends on our mother ocean," said Yohei Sasakawa, chairman of The Nippon Foundation. "I am excited that the next generation of thought leaders will be emerging from this center to share their research findings to guide the world toward ocean sustainability."