Fache, Elodie, Kon Kam King, Juliette, Riera, Léa and Breckwoldt, Annette ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5976-4537 (2022) A sea of connections: Reflections on connectivity from/in Oceania. Ambio, 51 . pp. 2333-2341. DOI https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-022-01789-x.

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The United Nations’ First and Second World Ocean Assessments (UN 2016, 2021) alarmingly outlined the breadth of threats to the world’s oceans, spanning from biodiversity collapse to pollution (including plastics and sounds) of even its most remote and deepest areas, as well as warming and acidification. These phenomena are related to exploitative activities of unprecedented extent and intensity, combined with the contested but continuing development of coastal urbanization and (so far ‘virtual’) deep-sea mining projects, which contributes to the (present and future) alteration of oceans’ functionalities. At the same time, oceans are increasingly acknowledged for their fundamental role in supporting human societies, with much anticipation regarding their additional capacity to foster livelihoods and (blue) economies, especially given the stagnation of land-based economies and the rarefaction of terrestrial resources (OECD 2016). Essential to human wellbeing, health, and survival (Betley et al. 2021), and yet threatened, oceans are by now at the fore of both global and national political agendas as well as increasingly high on the priorities of the conservation sector, which is progressively expanding its terrestrial focus toward marine ecosystems. This is illustrated by the adoption in 2015 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14, aiming to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development,”Footnote 1 and by the commitment to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 proclaimed at the 2022 One Ocean SummitFootnote 2 and United Nations Ocean Conference.Footnote 3

Given that the Pacific Ocean is the largest and probably the most coveted and threatened water-body globally (Bennett et al. 2015), the region has become a central stage for imagining the future of the world’s oceans and their governance. “Ninety-eight per cent of the area occupied by Pacific Island countries and territories is ocean” (Taylor 2017: 19). For these countries and territories the ocean “is at the heart of [their] cultures,” as they “depend on it for food, income, employment, transport, and economic development” (Taylor 2017: 19), while seeing themselves as custodians “for the general welfare of all living things” (Hau’ofa 2000: 40). Consequently, many Pacific Island countries and territories have committed to the sustainable management of the large oceanic spaces and outstanding marine resources under their jurisdiction. This is best illustrated by the regional Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, with its overarching vision of “a secure future for Pacific Island Countries and Territories based on sustainable development, management, and conservation of our Ocean” (Pratt and Govan 2010: 56). These countries and territories also attempt to progress their leadership in global ocean governance by drawing on their historical and fundamental connections to the Pacific Ocean, as evidenced by Fiji’s co-hosting of the United Nations Ocean Conference and launching of the Ocean Pathway in 2017, then in 2022 by the Our Ocean Conference in Palau and the Blue Climate Summit in French Polynesia, among others. This attempt faces both supporting and conflicting endeavors from international and regional organizations, other (i.e., non-Oceanian) nation-states, civil society (such as environmental NGOs), private interests (such as mining corporations), and so on, in the context of an ongoing tension between processes of ocean commoning and ocean grabbing (Fache et al. 2021).

These ocean-focused agendas integrate new concerns and perspectives for ocean governance and management. In particular, the concept of ‘integration’ has gained much ground in this field, to (re)connect different scales (e.g., global, regional, national, local policies), spaces (e.g., land and sea, inshore and offshore), temporalities (e.g., with a focus on both today’s uses and future generations’ needs), and/or stakeholders (e.g., through linkages between different sectors, such as fisheries management and biodiversity conservation, and between state and non-state actors) (Riera 2022). This movement also calls for an epistemological shift away from Western views of the world’s oceans that, just like complex systems thinking in general, “remain captive to paradigmatic assumptions that implicitly reproduce a separation between humans and nature” (West et al. 2020: 305). Rather, the integrative discourse conceptualizes relational perspectives that situate these “nodes” within continually unfolding processes and relations that “are at once what we might think of as ‘social,’ ‘ecological,’ ‘political,’ and ‘technical’” (West et al. 2020: 319).

The special section ‘Oceania: A Sea of Connections’ endeavors to contribute to this relational thinking through a focus on the Pacific Ocean and its fisheries. It emerged from the research project ‘A Sea of Connections: Contextualizing Fisheries in the South Pacific Region’ (SOCPacific, 2018–2022Footnote 4) that sought to assess and analyze the complex web of geopolitical, policy, and socio-cultural connections within which fishing activities and fisheries management efforts occur in Oceania (Fache and Breckwoldt 2019). This collection of articles aims to highlight multi-faceted and interconnected dimensions of Pacific fisheries, beyond mere economic or ecological analyses. Among the collection’s primary objectives are the exploration and production of knowledge on the ‘sea of connections’ in which island life and livelihoods are embedded. Within this frame, the dynamics of integrative ocean governance are observed and analyzed via the lens of a wide range of participating stakeholders of South Pacific fisheries. Beyond more familiar categories of stakeholders such as fishers and administrative agents, these include researchers, local students, and children, who are themselves acting, directly or indirectly, as connectors within and between Pacific Island countries and territories. These connections include the encounter of different ways of knowing, the exchange of various forms of knowledge, and the development of new knowledge sharing pathways and networks.

Drawing on academic networks across Oceania and Europe, this special section provides a series of empirical explorations of fisheries and related spaces (e.g., reef passages), species (e.g., sea turtles), values (e.g., monetary, ecological, cultural), management instruments and processes (e.g., community-based fisheries management), and stakeholders (e.g., both state and non-state actors, inclusive of actors often neglected, like children). The juxtaposition of these case studies allows us to minimize, “on the one hand, the myopic scholarly tendency to study individual island communities in relative isolation, and on the other, homogenizing views of Oceania that arise not only from foreign clichés, but also from the unifying rhetoric of affirmative regionalist paradigms” (Looser 2015: 467). This juxtaposition also illuminates both continuities and changes in various types of overlooked (re)connections, while questioning the making of specific disconnections under the joint influence of situated practices, discourses, and knowledges. It also allows us to freshly reflect on and engage with potential reasons for processes of dis/re/connection, local adaptations to these, as well as their effects on (past, present, and future) human-ocean relations. By spotlighting such dis/re/connections, the contributing authors call for a wider attention to Oceanian socio-cosmologies, sovereignties, and norms/forms of governance to support integrated and hence connected approaches to marine management.

Document Type: Article
Programme Area: PA4
Research affiliation: Affiliations > Not ZMT
Social Sciences > Social-Ecological Systems Analysis
Refereed: Yes
Open Access Journal?: No
DOI etc.: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-022-01789-x
ISSN: 0044-7447
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2022 08:09
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2022 08:08
URI: http://cris.leibniz-zmt.de/id/eprint/5032

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