Boot Camp for Coastal-Marine Conservation


Coastal-Marine Conservation: Science and Policy . Ray, G. C., and J.McCormick-Ray . 2004 . Blackwell Publishing , Malden , MA . 341 pp . ( 327 + xiv ). $73.95 (paperback) . ISBN 0-632-05537-5 .

It is easy to look at the state of affairs and trends in many areas of conservation and feel a rising panic. Marine conservation is no exception. This book draws the reader into thinking constructively about coastal-marine issues and the application of conservation tools. As the authors warn, the book does not provide specific answers or solutions; rather, it opens the discussion and provides a way to learn and organize the complex issues and promising strategies of the field. It will hold special appeal to multidisciplinary thinkers who want an overview of this field, and could serve as a text for upper-division or graduate courses. The book is organized into four sections, with individual chapters introduced by worthwhile quotes from sources as diverse as Robert D. Kaplan and William Shakespeare.

The first section begins with a recitation of the threats facing the coastal-marine realm. Although most readers are well aware of these problems, the authors effectively categorize them into primary, secondary, and tertiary issues. Primary issues include familiar topics such as species extinction and depletion and habitat deterioration, whereas secondary issues focus more closely on human activities as agents of change. Tertiary issues are systemic, defying simple solutions. Conservationists have much experience in thinking about and advocating for the primary issues and more recently have begun to focus on secondary issues in which the social sciences provide necessary tools. The tertiary issues, however, are usually transboundary or global in nature, highlighting the inadequacy of conventional regulatory techniques used by fragmented and competing jurisdictional approaches. The second chapter fully explores the extent and limits of existing conservation mechanisms, providing a dense overview of species and habitat approaches, national and international governance, and new directions. The national governance examples are drawn primarily from European and U.S. experience. The international environmental governance regime pertaining to the marine environment is described thoroughly, with helpful summary tables and text from international agreements such as the Rio Declaration, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Food and Agriculture Organization Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Critically, there are also good discussions of the social history of coastal-marine conservation and the concepts of coastal-zone management and adaptive-ecosystem management. Readers who are unfamiliar with environmental policy will find some parts of this chapter a bit of a slog, but those making it through will be rendered conversant in the major policy frameworks shaping the field.

For those who found chapter two light reading, the next section may serve as remedial marine ecology. Unless the reader is broadly trained in biology, ecology, oceanography, geology, meteorology, chemistry, and some physics, some terms will need to be looked up. The authors warn in their preface that a science dictionary might be necessary, and indeed the definition of terms such as unconsolidated coasts may not be clear without one. The third chapter uses all these fields to describe the coastal-marine ecosystem and gives a comprehensible definition of the ecosystem concept: “Ecosystems are products of their past and are defined by their inputs, outputs, internal organization, and hierarchical structure … . An ecosystem exhibits definable organization, spatial and temporal continuity, and functional properties, which can be viewed as distinctive to the system rather than of it individual components.” The figures used to illustrate concepts and frameworks are generally elegantly drawn throughout. For example, an invitation to contrast ocean jurisdictions recognized by international law (Fig. 2.3) with ecologically based subdivisions (Fig. 3.8) underscores one of the critical obstacles of marine-policy status quo. The fourth chapter delves into the natural history of the organisms of the coastal-marine ecosystem, leading into ecological theory on K versus r selection, keystone species, community assembly, biogeography, and more.

The third section rewards the reader for the hard work of the first four chapters, applying both scientific and political analysis to three case studies. The authors tell a cohesive story of the ecological and human history of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. In addition to an appreciation for oysters, the reader is given a description of the management challenges and the response of the Chesapeake Bay Program. Next, a tour of the Bering Sea provides special emphasis on the conservation of marine mammals such as the Stellar sea lion and Pacific walrus. This case study skillfully demonstrates how knowledge of the natural history of each organism and key environmental variables such as the extent of sea ice is critical to conservation efforts. The third case study considers the fascinating physical and human history as well as the rich biodiversity of the Bahamas. The stories of the Nassau grouper and green turtle provide a basis for a discussion of metapopulation dynamics and regional management needs. Each case study leaves some questions unanswered—questions that could be answered by more scientific research and that must be answered by the societies concerned. We believe that effective conservation requires knowledge of natural history—more than any other single subject—coupled with an ecosystem perspective, and this book does a good job of presenting biological facts and their importance in the case studies.

The final section ties together concepts from the policy and science chapters and lessons learned from the case studies. The conservation issues from the first chapter are revisited in the context of ecosystem health, and this discussion establishes known stressors as a reference point from which to judge change. A tour of regional seas provides examples for a consideration of regime shifts and altered ecosystem states. The book closes with a summary of the challenges faced by science and the need for political will and advocates for adaptive ecosystem management. The authors do not presume to offer easy solutions and do not pretend that current policy mechanisms are adequate. Our society has the knowledge to assess the environmental debt, but the challenge to our institutions is how to begin the task of paying it off.

The book has some small flaws: some of the contributed boxes stray a bit from the flow of the chapter topic—but most of them are interesting enough that this does not matter—and some of the pictures surely deserve to be rendered in color. The authors keep in-text citations to a bare minimum but provide an extensive bibliography with citations and suggested readings. A 45-page bibliography of additional references used in preparation of the book is available on Blackwell's Web site. The index is limited, but if the reader needs to look up a concept or scientific term, a separate reference is probably needed anyway. This is the biggest potential weakness of the book, which covers a great deal of material from multiple fields in depth. It is perhaps a necessary byproduct of the book's greatest strength: bringing together into one cohesive volume the science and policy needed for a holistic understanding of coastal-marine conservation.

The book makes for dense reading. No punches are pulled and no attempt is made to oversimplify the science or policy issues. The authors are serious about educating readers interested in conservation. The first two sections are perhaps a prerequisite to understanding the case studies and to whatever coastal-marine conservation issues readers may wish to understand for themselves. This book is a particularly useful reference for those in government and the private sector wishing to hone their knowledge of either the scientific or policy context of the field. There is enough theory here to satisfy academic yearnings, with discussion of, for example, strategy, tactics, complexity, and system stability. But there is also much practical wisdom and appreciation for scientific, political, and social perspectives. One look at the photo credits tells why: the authors have actually been there.