The overarching problem that we are addressing with BlueSails is the continued decline of the oceans' health and with it the continued loss of marine biodiversity, the declining function of the ocean as the most important carbon sink, and its function as a source of food security. Previous political goals such as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets had planned to protect significant percentages of the ocean by 2020, which have not yet been achieved sufficiently. Current coverage of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) of global oceans is roughly only 7%. The Global Ocean Alliance has now initiated the 30 by 30 target, with the aim to protect at least 30% of the global oceans in MPA and other effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs) by 2030. With BlueSails we are aiming to contribute to the progress on instating MPAs or other OECMs, by targeting Mediterranean coastal communities with a stakeholder engagement program for bottom-up MPA/OECM initiation.
Our stakeholder engagement program empowers local stakeholders in taking action to protect the biodiversity of their coasts, preserve the ocean's carbon sink function (mitigating climate change impacts especially important in case of endangerment through sea-level rise), and ensuring food and economic stability for subsistence fishing. Beyond the strengthening the local ecosystem services, the BlueSails intervention experience, establishes a platform for communication and local action, and thus strengthens the local community for overcoming the challenging conflicts which often arise around the topic of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
What it does
The BlueSails stakeholder engagement program for bottom-up MPA initiation is innovative in its explicit focus on inclusive(!!) stakeholder engagement. According to a study evaluating 27 case-studies of MPA implementation processes, the most critical success factor for MPA effectiveness is indeed a high level of stakeholder engagement (Giakoumi et al., 2018). The authors of this study suggest a three pillar approach which should be: dialogue-based engagement, leadership which initiates the local process (can be done by an organisation rather than an individual), and lastly enforcement and compliance mechanisms, which should be directly linked to monitoring.
The BlueSails approach follows three simple steps:
Sala et al. (2021) have identified priority target areas for MPAs, according to the largest possible impact they can have on biodiversity regeneration, carbon sink function and food security. They emphasise, that it takes a strategic, internationally coordinated approach to implement MPAs based on maximum possible biodiversity benefits, whereas as a random approach to conservation would require to protect 85% of the global oceans to reach the same results (pg.401, Sala et al., 2021). They provide an overview of high priority countries to target (see 'Figure 4' attached below), of which 9 border on the Mediterranean.
The first step in the BlueSail approach is to recruit local stakeholders and 'ambassadors' in these areas wanting to initiate a bottom-up protection process. Recruiting local stakeholders willing to participate in and push for local political action on initiating MPAs will ensure that language and cultural barriers are overcome, and that the solution approach is rooted in the needs and goals of the local community, rather than imposing a foreign, top-down mandate.
2_The Talanoa Dialogue and Ocean Literacy
Based on the Pacific concept of “Talanoa” -storytelling for consensus-building & decision-making-, the aim of BlueSails is to bring together local stakeholders and ambassadors on a sailing ship (ideally organisation-owned, alternatively chartered or provided by local community) to provide an open and inclusive environment for interaction and convergence of perspectives. The sailing trip serves to contributes to three psychological objectives, which should further ensure effectiveness of the process:
a) An emotional objective, which lets the stakeholders directly experience the environment to be protected deeply and sustainably, and fosters an emotional bond to the marine environment.
b) A cognitive objective, which targets community-building through sharing and understanding each others' perspectives, needs, goals and seeing where there are possible alliances.
c) A behavioural objective, which is the convergence of perspectives, understanding of the human impact on the ocean environment and the next actions necessary within the community to safe-guard their well-being.
While the first two objectives are primarily addressed by the offline experience on the ship, the behavioural objective is more long-term and sustained by the implementation of the online community and local ambassadors.
The online community established through a collaborative tool such as slack, serves as a continued support network after the 'intervention'. The aim here is to stay in touch both on the local scale, but also to be able to connect with other coastal areas implementing MPAs to share experiences and learn from each other. There will of course also be a public website for outside communication with potential partners and interested stakeholders.
Giakoumi et al. (2018) also call for more data on the effectiveness of MPA implementation processes, which is where BlueSails would like to make a scientific contribution, through collecting data on the dialogue-interventions and their long-term impacts on the local community. The platform therefore also serves to collect data on the effectiveness of the process. Ban et al. (2019) specifically also call for the inclusion of community well-being outcomes of MPA processes, which connects to the core principal of the BlueSails mission to empower local communities in converging on common goals and actions.
The overall contribution of the BlueSail experience is therefore to break up silos, initiate dialogue between stakeholders, establish an off- and online community on local action, empower local the ambassador(s) to lead the process towards MPA implementation, collect scientific evidence and lessons on effective local stakeholder involvement and contribute to the UNESCO Ocean Literacy initative.