Institute for Sustainability


Socio-ecological Indicators for Sustainable Management of Global Marine Biodiversity Conservation

Key Words: socio-ecological, sustainable, marine, indicators


Lead Supervisor: Dr Andrew Close 

Project Studentship Code: IFS004

Programme Code: 8020F

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The United Nations (UN) first Ocean Conference (2017) reported a rapid global decline in biodiversity of marine environments. In acknowledgement of the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, the United Kingdom (UK) Government stated an independent Britain should champion global leadership in ocean conservation and pledged to apply internationally renowned expertise on systems thinking to build new approaches to marine management interventions for protecting global levels of marine biodiversity.

This interdisciplinary project aims to advance the UK’s contribution to the global need for improving and maintaining marine biodiversity (SDG 14). We focus on sharks as a model apex species to develop a conceptual framework and identify social-ecological indicators for formulating biodiversity policy.

The effects of losing a keystone apex predator includes depletion of commercially important fish stocks. This disrupts sustainability and future resilience of marine ecosystems, leading to poverty and hunger for people dependent on healthy marine fishery resources for food and/or income. Effectively balancing exploitation rates of elasmobranchs with meeting biodiversity conservation goals is a global challenge yet to be realised. The social context is frequently missing from marine biodiversity studies yet is required to tailor management measures with a greater likelihood of being supported by those targeted.

This research will provide essential knowledge transfer from a resilient small island, the UK, to a small highly vulnerable island, the Maldives, to develop social-ecological indicators fit-for-policy to evaluate efficacy in marine biodiversity management options such as fishing-bans, a type of Marine Protected Area (MPA). Evaluating the effectiveness of a ban in supporting sustainable fisheries management has been impeded by a lack of: robust socio-ecological data presented within a multi-level governance context; in-country capacity for analysing complex datasets and translation of findings to non-technical audiences (important for engagement), and; logistical and material resources for understanding risks related to alternative livelihoods for fishers. Evidence-based conservation requires long-term data against which social and ecological change may be quantified if the SDG 14 is to be realised.

In the absence of historical scientific data useful for fisheries conservation and management, we will use Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK) provided by fishers and co-develop social indicators. We will aggregate temporal ecological information on species distributions, abundances and essential fish habitats (EFH) such as nursery grounds or aggregations and use integrated socio-ecological data to assess risks associated with different scenarios and impacts of fishing bans on shark population dynamics to recommend future conservation and fisheries management measures.

By operationalising our conceptual framework and indicators with empirical field data we will develop models to assess complex interrelationships between apex predators, food security and human impacts on marine ecosystem health. This study aims to provide a unique insight into underlying mechanisms influencing relationships between exploitation of shark populations, marine biodiversity and sustainability of small island communities, e.g., the Maldives.

We will develop socio-ecological indicators with fishery policy and science advisers; build a user-friendly toolkit for determining effectiveness of MPAs to sustain marine biodiversity and avoid unintended consequences leading to poverty (SDG 1) and hunger (SDG 2).