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Interactive governance of whale ecosystem services: governability assessment of three case studies in the Arctic

The social-ecological change in the Arctic is accelerated by the multifaceted effects of climate change and globalization. Among other things, this means changing human-ecosystem dynamics through altered availability, co-production, and governance of ecosystem services (ES). A group of species illustrative of this change are whales, migratory species that have played an important part in the culture and subsistence of Arctic communities for millennia. This study explores the changing human-nature interactions and whale ES governance by combining ES and interactive governance theories. A multi-method approach is applied to assess qualitatively the qualitative governability of whale ES in three Arctic coastal locations: Húsavík in Iceland, Andenes in Norway, and Disko Bay in Greenland. Based on a literature review, stakeholder mapping, observations, and analysis of 54 semi-structured stakeholder interviews, the study finds that whale ES governance involves multiple actors with differing preferences and values and that much of it happens outside of formal institutions, necessitating inclusive approaches to improve it. The study reveals some whale ES governance deficiencies and potentials, such as a mismatch between governance scales and a need for more formal governance practices based on scientific research and stakeholder inputs. Governance frameworks were present for provisioning whale ES related to whaling, but they were lacking for non-consumptive whale ES, such as whale watching. Addressing these issues can help to direct marine resource management toward sustainability by making it more inclusive, adaptive, and reflective of stakeholder needs and values. This goal could be advanced by applying the governance principles that view humans as an integral part of social-ecological systems, e.g., ecosystem stewardship and ecosystem-based management.

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