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!

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