We are interested in the intricate ties between people and the environment (ethnoecology), especially in coastal and marine systems, and implications for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. Our interdisciplinary research investigates social and ecological themes to better understand how social-ecological systems function – and, in turn, how we can improve our stewardship for a better future for people and biodiversity. Our work takes place across the world (Canada, Australia, Indonesia, the high seas), but most of our research happens here at home in British Columbia. Much of our research falls into one of three themes:

Marine protected area design: Our research compares and integrates community-based (including traditional ecological knowledge) and science-based approaches to the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are one potentially effective conservation tool for biodiversity protection and to facilitate sustainable use, but are being established very slowly in Canada and can be controversial. Our research has shown that community involvement in placing MPAs can help meet many ecological goals, in addition to community aspirations, although biophysical data improve the conservation value of sitings. Such research can help to reconcile differing perspectives about the efficacy of community-based vs. science-based MPA selection. Current involvement and interest in MPA design and marine spatial planning includes an assessment of marine use plans developed by First Nations in British Columbia, incorporating climate change in MPA design, compliance with spatial management measures, and investigating efficacy of management of large MPAs.

Human uses and impacts on the marine environment: Our interest here is three-fold: 1) mapping anthropogenic impacts and cumulative effects; 2) devising ways to incorporate human uses into marine conservation planning; and 3) exploring the concept of marine ecosystem services for conservation planning.

  • Analysis of cumulative human impacts in the marine environment is in its infancy. We remain engaged in research to expand upon existing approaches, aiming for a realistic first-consideration of cumulative impacts at a regional scale, using British Columbia as a case study.
  • Conservation plans are more likely to be implementable if users are involved in the planning, and if their uses are considered in conservation planning tools. We were involved with the now completed British Columbia Marine Conservation Analysis project, a collaborative project designed to provide resource managers, scientists, decision-makers, and those with a vested interest in the marine environment with better information to have discussions and/or make decisions about the ocean along the BC coast.
  • The concept of marine ecosystem services may provide a perspective that speaks more directly to the needs and interests of users and managers, by focusing on the benefits humans derive from ecosystems rather than the inherent value of biodiversity. Many challenges remain to integrate the ecosystem service concept into conservation planning. Drawbacks of the approach also need to be explored.

Ecological dynamics and conservation planning: Spatial and temporal dynamics of resources and disturbances, such as pelagic productivity and coral bleaching, are extremely important for conservation planning because the persistence of many species depends on them. Yet current planning methods do not usually include such dynamics in the design of conservation areas. We seek to develop and test quantitative objectives and guidelines for incorporating spatial and temporal dynamics into conservation planning whilst considering dynamic threats, including climate change.


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