ABOUT

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The Centre is a collaboration between the University of Tasmania, the CSIRO and the Australian Antarctic Division. Based in Hobart at the University of Tasmania, the Centre is guided by a five-year strategic plan.

The objectives are:

  1. To bring together researchers in a multi- and trans-disciplinary collaboration in a formal and enduring partnership, ensuring coherence, focus and profile.
  2. To advance our understanding and management of marine socio-ecological systems through the development of methods, tools and decision support systems.
  3. To create a world-leading centre.

The Centre makes use of the critical mass of nationally and internationally leading researchers present in Hobart from the partners. The Centre brings together a wide variety of disciplines – oceanography, ecology, economics, policy, law and social science – in active collaboration to directly address the theory and applied sides of marine socio-ecological systems. Initially, our focus will be on temperate systems.

It’s proving to be exciting, challenging, but ultimately highly productive.

Background and Need

Coasts and the marine estate more broadly are important in Australia and internationally as loci of human activity. They feature strongly in the ethos of Australia’s self image. They are the centre of much human activity but also highly productive regions attracting competing users, often with conflicting objectives. In managing multiple-uses of our coasts and oceans the challenge is to meet the needs for enhanced and sustainable use of the marine domain. This must be done with care to meet the future needs of food, energy and conservation and to equally support social, economic and environmental outcomes wherever possible. It explicitly involves managing human impacts on the earth’s marine and coastal systems, and managing the feedback of these impacts on the lives of people, as well as on industry, coastal communities and nations

The complexity increases with the expanding list of alternative uses and increasing pressures – expanding populations, pollution, biodiversity threats, concerns over food security and new industries (such as renewable energy and offshore mining), against a background of increased uncertainty due to climate change and climate variability (and associated mitigation and adaptation).

Addressing the cumulative impacts of various activities affecting an ecosystem is often referred to as ecosystem-based management (EBM). It has the express intention of managing for and balancing multiple and sometimes conflicting objectives that are related to different benefits and ecosystem services.

A socio-ecological perspective will support the delivery of accountable and transparent decision making. It will not only be useful to government agencies, industries and coastal planners, but to any group interested in the sustainable use of Australia’s marine and coastal zones.

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Bringing research disciplines together

Socioecology is a challenging new area of research that combines multidisciplinary, inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary components. The trans-disciplinary research required to support development of integrated policies and decision making systems is a relatively nascent field identified as one of the most important emerging areas of science for society (Gifford et al 2010). An integrated marine focus has had even less attention, as previous research efforts have either been terrestrially focused or dealt primarily with single sectors. Internationally, research in this area has tended to focus more heavily on one sector or another, not treating all sectors equally, or has been a temporary alliance of disciplines that was not undertaken in a coordinated or strategic way. This has meant that:

  • Research outcomes have typically been descriptive/qualitative
  • Many new frameworks have been developed, but there has yet to be significant on-ground or standardised operational approaches.
  • No long-term capacity building and continuity between projects leading to limited capacity to continually build and develop effective approaches

The research centre aims to create:

  • A strategic research initiative (to deliver integration, focus and profile) that will lead to rapid on ground advances.
  • Methods and tools to reduce contested outcomes as the complexity of the system increases.
  • Technical expertise to deliver qualitative and quantitative approaches that enable ecosystem-based management to become operational.

Consequently, the research undertaken in the Centre for Marine Socioecology goes beyond single disciplines. It is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research centre where knowledge and methods from different disciplines are integrated and there is active collaboration of researchers across many physical, biological, social, legal and economic fields. It also goes beyond the academic arena, actively involving stakeholders in the processes.

Role of research

The diversity and complexity of marine systems means there is much to be learnt about such systems, sustainable management and how socio-ecological information can be usefully shared and integrated into management decision support.

The Centre has four themes:

  • Interdisciplinary research – spanning oceanography, climatology, ecology, engineering, economics, social sciences, law, arts, history, governance and policy.
  • Transdisciplinary methods – which focus on effective and participatory EBM
  • Monitoring and performance evaluation – identifying how new sensor technologies, new media and survey methods can support EBM protocols and socio-ecological research
  • Decision support toolbox – to underpin the other research themes and EBM

Between these themes the research delivers

  • Basic understanding of socio-ecological systems and the interactions that characterise them
  • Research integration, synthesising understanding around dealing with socio-ecological problems and how to effectively meld perspectives from multiple disciplines, work with a range of stakeholders and co-produce knowledge
  • Technical expertise and tools around qualitative and quantitative approaches to managing multiple uses in our coastal and marine domains.

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