Environmental Conservation

THEMATIC SECTION: Interdisciplinary Progress in Environmental Science & Management

Creating space for interdisciplinary marine and coastal research: five dilemmas and suggested resolutions


a1 School of Marine Affairs and Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, 3707 Brooklyn Avenue NE, Seattle, WA 98105-6715, USA


Important changes are needed to disciplinary theories and methods to support interdisciplinary and integrated ocean and coastal management policies and implementation. This review argues that theories and methods should conform to a perspective that ocean management is a societal activity with diverse goals ideally informed by interdisciplinary information. The review focuses on the integrated coastal management (ICM) and marine ecosystem-based management (EBM) frameworks and the marine protected areas (MPA) management tool. It begins by suggesting that at present there is a notable imbalance in the degree of effort allocated to monitoring the ecological and social dimensions of ocean resource use and policy processes. Based on how Western society and an influential epistemic community construct ‘the environment’ and society's relation to the environment, natural sciences play an inordinately important role in the description of the problem and policy recommendations. The discourse advocating for a global networks of marine protected areas, without adequate consideration of society impacts and responses, represents an example of this imbalance. Rebalancing the contributions of scientific disciplines encounters various dilemmas with epistemological, methodological and sociological dimensions. The analysis concludes with suggestions for balancing ocean and coastal interdisciplinary research and reframing key issues, creating self reflexive and multidisciplinary research teams, and reworking educational programmes.

(Received February 26 2010)

(Accepted September 14 2010)

(Online publication April 06 2011)


c1 Correspondence: Dr Patrick Christie e-mail: patrickc@u.washington.edu