Research

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 what is currently known as British Columbia. At the heart of all our work is applied collaborative research. This means many of our projects are done in partnerships with Indigenous and other governments and organizations across sectors that engage in environmental conservation and stewardship. On our People page are some examples of the partnerships and outcomes our projects connect with. Much of our research falls under four themes:

Supporting Indigenous-led environmental stewardship: In our research, we aim to center our collective responsibilities to advance social justice in environmental conservation while centering the rights and roles of Indigenous peoples, the original and ongoing stewards of the many places in which we work. Through partnerships, our research within this theme are two-fold: 1) showcasing how our Indigenous collaborators are leading and critical to environmental conservation on their territories, and 2) ensuring our research is conducted to support our partners in their stewardship efforts. Our research has shown that supporting Indigenous stewardship can foster biodiversity conservation and advance Indigenous resurgence. Our most recent work in this area has looked at relationships between Indigenous knowledge and environmental monitoring, the importance of Indigenous governance in biodiversity conservation, and Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.

Marine protected area design: Our research compares and bridges community-based (including Indigenous and local knowledge) and science-based approaches to the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs). MPAs are one potentially effective conservation tool for biodiversity protection 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 conservation goals, in addition to community aspirations, although biophysical data can inform the siting of MPAs and improve the conservation value. Current involvement and interest in MPA and MPA network design and marine spatial planning includes an assessment of marine use plans developed by First Nations in British Columbia, incorporating climate change and ecological connectivity in MPA design, compliance with spatial management measures, investigating efficacy of management of large MPAs, and creating meaningful tools for assessing MPA network design.

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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