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Working towards high seas governance through MPAs

"No water, no life. No blue, no green." - Sylvia Earl

One of the greatest illusions in life is continuity. 10.000 ago, the continuity of us humans had been going on for about 300.000 years already, and it didn’t seem like it would change any time soon. The earth's climate was stable. The lands were covered in billions of critters and organisms and the oceans were teeming with life. A paradise, a world of plenty full of life. But what is the source of all this life? What sustains it? The answer is water. Lots and lots of water. It has been said that our species is a species that suffers from amnesia. It is easy for us to forget what we have or what was once there. Yet it is our past that allowed us to get where we are today. Now, because of our hubris, our greed, and our blind sightedness, we are actively ruining this little piece of paradise. Our home.

Around five months ago, we were at school after a long summer break, ready to get back to work and eager to learn new things during our Value Creators (VC). We started to discuss topics about our next project and where everyone’s interests were. At the time, we weren’t a group yet. There were so many interesting topics floating around, how could you possibly choose between any of them? Well, fast forward a few days and we had formed a group with members all interested in the same wicked problem: ocean resource management. During the VC journey, we could define our focus more, as you will see.

After the beginning phase was over, a very sobering reality hovered over our heads. The ocean is huge and there are plenty threats from all sectors, including stakeholders with different interests. As big as the ocean will be the challenge of protecting it. And so there we were, four students with little knowledge about how the ocean resources are managed, where should we even start? At first, it was a lot of figuring out for us. What do we focus on? Which areas are most important? Where and how can we make a valuable contribution? Where do we even take the first step? Luckily, we were supported by our coach during the Value Creators journey. He gave us advice on contacting stakeholders more effectively and assisted us in being more effective in our teamwork. Through guiding questions, he helped us describe our initial problems that led us to seek help, to identify barriers in the team and approaches to be more effective, together. The different workshops we participated in also aided us on how to deal with many of the questions we had regarding how to approach the different phases of the VC journey: Explore, Engage, Elaborate and Evaluate.

We spent two months in the Exploring Phase, trying to demarcate our focus within the wicked problem of sustainable ocean resource management, including research on the topic, the outreach to different stakeholders, and talking about what they consider most important to focus on to drive positive change. Those we could talk with were representatives from the European Marine Board, the Outlaw Ocean Project, the OSPAR commission (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic), and the Marine Conservation Institute. Among the main reasons for the wicked problems, identified by the stakeholders, were the lack of communication between relevant stakeholders and the overview over their roles and responsibilities, outdated and fragmented ocean management practices and lacking jurisdiction and monitoring of the high seas. Consequently, we as a team decided to focus on governance of the high seas, since the high seas are vital, providing many relevant ecosystem services, but lack the necessary protection through a lack of jurisdiction and monitoring.

Trying to move to the Engaging Phase, we asked the stakeholders if they were willing to be part of our network and create something of value that drives positive change towards sustainable governance of the high seas. We faced the challenge, that for most stakeholders the concept of the Value Creators, as well as the structure and intention of the network, was not clear enough to convince them. Some hesitantly agreed, provided we could give them more precise information about the other members and next steps. So, we wrote a short network guide for our stakeholders, presenting the potential members, asking them to answer questions about whether they see a value in collaborating with others, and what they need specifically to advance in problems that we could help them with. However, we had a major setback. Just before we had to confirm our findings, our network members, and the type of engagement, nearly all of them decided to halt their work with us. Reasons stated were a lack of time and thematic proximity. Consequently, we had to go back to the drawing board, contacting unresponsive stakeholders from the Exploring Phase, and thinking of a plan B in the worst case. Overall, our situation left us a bit distraught.

And just when hope seemed lost in mid-December, we were introduced to another representative of the Marine Conservation Institute, who was willing to collaborate with us on the complex problem, which was a big relief. We were offered the opportunity to choose any topic within the Institute´s focus, with a preferred interest in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and Seamounts, we even had the flexibility of choosing our most favourable final value product. Given the time and resources we had left, we agreed to create a blogpost and an accompanying infographic on the importance of highly protected MPAs on the high seas for ocean health and human well-being, the relevance of an effective international legal high seas’ treaty, and the possibilities to act. These were made as part of an awareness-raising effort to educate about and advocate for the protection of the high seas, specifically areas high in biodiversity. It will be posted on the High Seas Alliance´s and Marine Conservation Institute´s website and, maybe, even on some of their partners´ webpages to expand the reach to the target group of people with a less scientific background, hopefully, driving readers to act.

Our Elaborating and Evaluating phase were very close by each other and fell onto the Christmas vacation, which was stressful, but thanks to the flexibility of the stakeholder, we could manage it, despite a nine-hour time difference between us.

Our team faced a lot of uncertainty during the Value Creators, which was expected, but to a lesser extent. We faced a lot of bad luck, which, among other factors, also affected our team dynamics and motivation. During that phase, our coach was a big help to us to realign and keep trying to move forward together. We learned that good team dynamics are essential to work effectively, despite uncertainty. This includes an understanding of each team member´s needs to stay motivated, which can and should be shared and evaluated in regular team activities.

Finally, we are satisfied that we could deliver a meaningful value product, even if it is on a smaller scale than originally intended. Along our learning journey, we therefore had to realize that uncertainty and ambiguity greatly influence the scale and level of final value creation.

If you are interested in continuing this journey or just want to know more, you can always email us with any questions about our journey and/or final value deliverable.





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