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Past and future challenges in managing European seas

Thorsten Blenckner, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
Andreas Kannen, Institute for Coastal Research, Human Dimensions in Coastal Areas
Alberto Barausse, University of Padova
Christian Fischer, Institute for Coastal Research, Human Dimensions in Coastal Areas
Johanna J. Heymans, Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute
Tiziana Luisetti, Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment (CSERGE), School of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia
Valentin Todorova, Institute of Oceanology, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Matilda Valman, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University
Laurence Mee, Scottish Association for Marine Science, Scottish Marine Institute


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Marine environments have undergone large-scale changes in recent decades as a result of multiple anthropogenic pressures, such as overfishing, eutrophication, habitat fragmentation, etc., causing often nonlinear ecosystem responses. At the same time, management institutions lack the appropriate measures to address these abrupt transformations. We focus on existing examples from social–ecological systems of European seas that can be used to inform and advise future management. Examples from the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea on long-term ecosystem changes caused by eutrophication and fisheries, as well as changes in management institutions, illustrate nonlinear dynamics in social–ecological systems. Furthermore, we present two major future challenges, i.e., climate change and energy intensification, that could further increase the potential for nonlinear changes in the near future. Practical tools to address these challenges are presented, such as ensuring learning, flexibility, and networking in decision-making processes across sectors and scales. A combination of risk analysis with a scenario-planning approach might help to identify the risks of ecosystem changes early on and may frame societal changes to inform decision-making structures to proactively prevent drastic surprises in European seas.

Key words

ecosystem-based management; regime shifts; scenarios

Copyright © 2015 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087