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Posts by: "ecgg"

By Irene Brueckner-Irwin and Sondra Eger
Waterloo, ON

On World Oceans Day (June 8, 2017), we met for a 2-day workshop at the University of British Columbia to discuss oceans and fisheries access issues in Canada. Access cluster co-leads – Megan Bailey and Nathan Bennett – organized the workshop in order to launch the OceanCanada Access working group, with the goals of taking stock of access issues in Canada, as well as identifying the linkages between access and the wellbeing of coastal communities. We engaged with transdisciplinary expertise and experience in addressing these goals, and workshop participants included community resource users and representatives, Indigenous rights-holders and representatives, and researchers. Participants actively engaged in thematic sessions relating to access over the course of the workshop, which led to the sharing of diverse perspectives and the emergence of key themes.

The first theme included the broad recognition that coastal communities in Canada are not prioritized when it comes to decision-making about our oceans. These communities are often rural, and have been losing access to ocean space and resources over time at the benefit of provincial and federal economic agendas. For example, small-scale inshore fishers have lost ownership of fisheries licenses to corporate agencies, and access of coastal and marine areas are being prioritized for energy development (e.g., tidal energy in the Bay of Fundy) and resource extraction (e.g., oil and gas). Additionally, international commitments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity have driven a federal mandate prioritizing conservation initiatives (i.e., marine protected areas). Much decision-making about our ocean resources continue to be made with economic and international justification, despite the reality that the social, cultural, and traditional values of access are critical to coastal communities.

Another key theme that emerged from the workshop was that, while access to ocean space and resources are critical for coastal communities, access to decision-making processes about the ocean is also extremely important to ensure participation, ownership, legitimacy, and transparency. At the workshop, we heard about experiences where those with high stakes or rights in accessing ocean space (i.e., coastal and Indigenous communities) were either inadequately consulted, or were excluded from decision-making processes entirely. The need for equitable access to process was identified, as well as the use and respect of different types of knowledge in those processes. The benefits of applying local, academic, and Indigenous knowledge was discussed at length.

Throughout the workshop, it was clear that these themes must be addressed in order to secure the wellbeing of coastal communities in Canada. To that end, the OceanCanada Access working group has identified future research needs and collaborations as a result of the workshop, and we look forward to continued partnership as we strive to create a shared vision for Canada’s oceans.

Photo credit: Sondra Eger

By Irene Brueckner-Irwin

Another doom and gloom story, another reason to disengage. Even the most passionate students around me toil with feelings of apathy and desensitization when we hear about our impending doom as millennials. Sustainability discourse reminds us that we’ve been dealt a rough hand when it comes to the significant environmental threats we will face, and we’re only the first wave of ‘future generations’ who will encounter them. But according to Jennifer Lynes and Sarah Wolfe, “It’s time to rethink our messaging about environmental change.” This leaves me wondering, how could we make the narrative around environmental change less alarmist and more compelling?

Canada hosting World Environment Day is a good opportunity to think about this. The theme this year is “Connecting People to Nature”, and reconnecting with nature may be a healthy strategy to reshape narratives about the environment. All 35 million Canadians connect with nature daily, if by no other means than the air, food, and water upon which we rely. However, being more mindful and intentional about fostering our relationships with nature has the potential to transform perceptions and actions on environmental change. The premise: the better we know nature, the better we’ll take care of it.

Fortunately, there are some promising initiatives coming out of the conservation and parks communities in Canada. At the Canadian Parks Conference in Banff, Alberta from March 8-11, 2017, I learned about some of these initiatives. For example, the Parks for All Strategic Framework (Canadian Parks Council & Canadian Parks and Recreation Association) places high priority on the central role of citizens in parks and protected areas. The framework is currently in its second draft stage, and will eventually receive endorsement from a broad range of actors in the environmental field. Indigenous Guardians are protecting traditional lands and waters, renewing their deep connections to nature while reminding others of their own connections. Toronto Region Conservation is working on restoration of a hydro corridor with community volunteers. The Nature Playbook gives down-to-earth ideas for a new generation of Canadians to interact with nature.

These are examples of initiatives which enable us to develop our relationships with nature, by experiencing the outdoors in unique and meaningful ways. These relationships and experiences will ultimately shape how we choose to care for our planet and because of that, we should not underestimate the power of strengthening human-environment connections on the individual and community levels. In going beyond doom and gloom narratives around environmental change, and instead deliberately embracing and engaging people in our commitments to the environment, we will create more opportunities for action and hopefully transform environmental change narratives for the better.



Many thanks to Dani Lindamood for reviewing this post.

By Dani Lindamood;
Posted on the Faculty of Environment website;

The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are centered around the ideas of social and environmental justice. Within each goal, the targets seek to address both human and environmental issues – to strike a balance between the needs of our species and the planet that gives us life. Water, to me, is the ultimate expression of interconnectedness in our human and environmental systems. Water is a basic necessity for all life, human activities affect water quality which in turn affect human health, and many people see value in water through the recreational and spiritual experiences it facilitates.

But water is also inherently complex. It doesn’t fit very well into many of our human-made boxes. Water flows across the borders we draw, water resources are distributed unequally across our planet, and water is not easily captured and stored on the large scales needed to sustain many urban populations.

As the world has transformed in the Anthropocene, an age in which humans are the biggest force shaping the planet’s future, the governance and management of water is becoming increasingly important and needed to make water use more sustainable. Goals aimed at addressing water challenges are not contentious, yet historically, we have not been very good at achieving them. SDG 6, universal access to clean water and sanitation, is a leap forward in the way we conceptualize water challenges because of the way it engages with both human and environmental systems. Additionally, the United Nations (UN) has identified that this goal can be linked to the success of all the other sixteen goals. For example, we cannot achieve SDG 5 – gender equality – if women and girls disproportionately bear the burdens of fetching clean water. Similarly, SDG 3 – good health and well-being – will remain unachievable if water issues continue to negatively impact human health and human rights. In this way, if we are talking about the success of all the SDGs, we are really qualifying that by saying SDG 6 must be achieved.

Achieving SDG 6, then, is our task over the next thirteen years. This question of achievability fascinates me and is at the center of my research on water governance in India. In order to understand what drives the achievability of water goals, I lived in Bangalore, India capturing experiences around success and failure in water provisioning and management. This included interacting with people in the highest rungs of government as well as people living humbly in rural villages, enabling my data to cover a wide range of contexts and expertise intimately tied with the decision-making and management surrounding water issues. In particular, I spent time in two different villages talking to villagers and local officials to develop embedded case studies, giving a more specific context to the experiences around success and failure with water provisioning in their communities. By understanding both the big picture of water governance in India as well as the specific nuances that arise in context, I hope to identify broader trends that will tangibly enhance the achievability of SDG 6 in policy and practice.

While I am still in the process of writing my results and analysis, my time in India and the grappling I have done with the complexities of SDG 6 make it clear that collaboration will be a fundamental puzzle piece in achieving SDG 6. Whether taken in broad or specific contexts, complexity pervades the world of water because it interacts so deeply with economic, cultural, religious, political, and ecological systems. These varied settings and complex interactions mean there is a clear value in being able to draw from different expertise, experiences, and traditional knowledge in order to create appropriate and sustainable solutions.

As we move forward, I believe the SDGs present a unique opportunity to understand the complex sustainability challenges facing our planet. Through this understanding, I think we can illuminate pathways to the transformative societal change the SDG agenda seeks to create. I hope my research will translate into lighting that path a little more clearly and ultimately enhancing the achievability of SDG 6 for the benefit of people and planet alike.

By Dani Lindamood;
Posted on the Water Institute website;

Dedicating my life and studies to the world of water is one of the most beautiful accidents that has ever happened to me.

This accidental foray into water began for me in 2014. With a background in global studies, I found myself working as a sustainable development intern in The Gambia with low-tech waste water systems and community-based water solutions. That summer, water began to seep into my life and my worldview. I worked with communities to better understand their water needs and connected with local NGOs to design sustainable water solutions. I was also able to work with the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights to develop their literature around the right to water and sanitation.

As I returned to North America, the world around me began to transform as I experienced my surroundings through a more water-focused lens and when I committed to pursuing a Master’s degree in the sustainability field, I knew it would involve water in one way or another.

“There are not many programs around the world that integrate environmental science and social science together in one sphere, and even fewer who do it in a meaningful way. I have found that the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, and the Water Institute’s Collaborative Water Program have made my time as a graduate student go from meaningful to life-changing.”
The Collaborative Water Program (CWP) brings together students from diverse academic backgrounds who are all completing research that involves water, including disciplines like hydrology, political science, biology, chemistry, ecology, sociology, economics, architecture, geography, and more. Completing the certificate program not only helped me form a deeper appreciation for the importance of my own expertise, but it also enabled me to broaden my water knowledge, refine my ability to communicate across disciplines, and ultimately understand the dire need for collaborative work on water issues.

While having more knowledge and communication abilities has been helpful, understanding the need for collaboration on water issues has opened my eyes to numerous opportunities. In many ways, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) – universal access to clean water and sanitation – is a universal validation on the need for collaboration in water issues across human and environmental systems. My research engages with the achievability of SDG 6, especially surrounding the ways we govern water as a resource and human right. During my field work in India, I sought out opportunities to hear more perspectives and develop relationships across different areas of water management and governance. More recently, I participated in Waterlution’s Water Innovation Lab – India where I was able to explore diverse perspectives on water issues in India with a group of 50 people working across all areas of the water world.

“By seeing the value in collaboration and bringing that to my real-world experiences, I have been able to cultivate the most robust, profound, and supportive network of friends and colleagues I have ever known. It has also helped me solidify the knowledge that I want to pursue work in the field of water management and governance for people and planet alike.”
Overall, the lessons the CWP taught me have translated directly into my research, network, and career goals, but it has also made me optimistic about the future of our water resources. Water is inherently complex because of the way it pervades both human and environmental systems. Ultimately, no one person working in a water-related field is going to be able to solve every water issue. By stepping outside of my comfort zone and being willing to explore the value of disciplines and relationships outside my areas of expertise, I now see the immense power in collaborating on solutions to our complex water problems. The journey will undoubtedly be more fruitful and our goals more attainable in working together towards a more sustainable water future.

By Jeremy Pittman and Jorge Álvarez-Romera;
Posted on the Conservation Planning Group website;

In the context of increasing pressures on the land-sea interface, the role of governance is a potentially important, yet unfortunately an understudied consideration in our pursuit of sustainability. Existing governance can set the course for the fragmented decision-making that currently spawns many inappropriate uses of coastal areas and watersheds (e.g., land-clearing for agriculture without considering reef sedimentation). Yet governance can also serve as a process for bringing together and finding synergies between the potentially disparate interests of people or groups who are dependent on different parts of land-sea systems. But the fact remains – we have an idea, but know considerably little about what characteristics of governance actually help us achieve social and ecological sustainability across the land-sea interface.

With this in mind, the Environmental Change and Governance Group (ECGG) at the University of Waterloo, Canada, recently organized a symposium at the International Marine Conservation Congress biennial conference, which was held from July 30 to August 3, 2016 in St. John’s, Canada. The session aimed to improve our understanding of the role of governance in promoting sustainability across the land-sea interface, and it convened people from around the world working on land-sea sustainability issues. The symposium was led by Jeremy Pittman and Derek Armitage from the ECGG, and included researchers from The Conservation Planning Group (Jorge G. Álvarez-Romero and Allan Dale), Saint Mary’s University (Tony Charles), and the University of Waterloo (Prateep Nayak, also an ECGG member). Jorge described some of the complexities of undertaking conservation planning across realms from the perspective of scientists, managers and policy-makers working in northern Australia; while Allan discussed the potential opportunities and barriers associated with existing governance of the Great Barrier Reef system. Prateep discussed his work comparing governance and sustainability outcomes in multiple lagoons throughout the globe. Tony discussed the promise and perils of marine protected areas in the context of land-sea governance. And Jeremy and Derek presented the findings from a recent systematic review on governance across the land-sea interface.

The symposium set the stage for some synthesis work regarding governance across the land-sea interface, and the researchers are currently developing a review paper to capture their ideas regarding the characteristics or attributes of governance that can help promote sustainability in the face of ongoing and pervasive social and ecological change at the land-sea interface. Stay tuned for more!

By Irene Brueckner-Irwin, MES Candidate
Saint John, NB

Last week, I attended the “Fundy in Flux: Challenges for Science, Policy and Society” science workshop, hosted by the Bay of Fundy Ecosystem Partnership (BoFEP) in Fredericton. BoFEP is a transdisciplinary partnership which promotes ecological integrity, biodiversity, and productivity for the wellbeing of coastal communities. The workshop was an effective way to share knowledge about the dynamic state of the Bay of Fundy, highlighting the importance of place-based science communication as a way to address the challenges and opportunities of complexity and uncertainty.

Addressing these challenges within social-ecological systems is a critical part of our work in ECGG. A number of our research projects deal, explicitly or implicitly, with questions about how complexity and uncertainty operate at different scales. In particular, my research is concerned with how we can integrate social and ecological needs into marine conservation in the face of uncertainty. The Bay of Fundy is a well-suited case to try to understand this.

Presenters in last week’s workshop raised issues about climate change, coastal governance and monitoring, tidal energy, and ecology, emphasizing the interrelationships of the region. Indeed, signs of social and ecological embeddedness are easily recognizable along the coast: waterfront boardwalks, aquariums, fishing boats, wetland projects, and shipping traffic. It’s a unique social-ecological system, where dramatic tides provide habitat and natural resources that are critical for human wellbeing. Research on the Bay of Fundy abounds and a number of good datasets exist, however we know less about the system under conditions of change. Uncertainty about upcoming change in the region is intensifying with looming socio-political decisions in some key sectors that will influence the plentiful resources offered by the bay.

For example:
• If tidal energy becomes widely attainable, how will turbines influence aquatic species?
• Will a network of marine protected areas adequately protect biodiversity, and what influence will it have on resource users in the bay?
• If oil and gas development intensifies, where will shipping traffic increase? What would be the fate of a bitumen spill in the bay?

Despite these sources of uncertainty, one thing is clear after attending the BoFEP workshop: a strong community exists within BoFEP to address these challenges in order to enhance the wellbeing of coastal communities along the Bay of Fundy. Integrating the ecological with the social, this transdisciplinary group creates opportunities to navigate the complexity of a very special region in Canada.

Thank you to the organizing committee of the BoFEP workshop. Workshop proceedings will soon be available here.

BoFEP participants enjoying a boat trip on the Oromocto River

BoFEP participants enjoying a boat trip on the Oromocto River