You might have heard the phrase, “it’s like putting a square peg in a round hole.” The saying speaks to the idea that some things simply do not fit well together, the same way square corners prevent a peg from going into a round hole. What if you reversed the shapes, and tried to put a round peg in a square hole? You can imagine that the round peg would fit, but there would be gaps in the corners where the shapes didn’t align. A lot of marine planning to date has used round pegs (natural sciences + political will) to try to fill square holes (contested uses of natural spaces, impacts of climate change). Natural sciences can inform a large portion of planning decisions by focusing on critical topics within fields such as biology, ecology, and geology. However, there are still those pesky unfilled corners that leave gaps in plans, policies, and projects by failing to consider impacts on humans. The results are chronic issues like non-compliance, lack of local support, and disproportionate costs for disadvantaged populations.
What if there were nice triangle shaped blocks that could fill in a lot of the gaps that contribute to the issues mentioned above?
Good news, there are! They’re called social sciences. There are different disciplines within the social sciences, which focus on how people interact with each other. Disciplines most helpful for marine planning also focus on how people interact with their environment. If generations of residents in a coastal town have relied on fishing for subsistence and to make a living, their identities are deeply intertwined with the fish, the sea, and one other. A conservation plan that limits where they can fish or restricts their fishing quotas is not just about geographic boundaries or monetary impacts. It’s about who residents are and their place-based connections. Only interdisciplinary thinking that integrates social and natural systems can begin to adequately consider such nuanced relationships.
Integrating social sciences into marine planning is not a sweeping solution. There will always be layers of impacts that weren’t quite addressed or reactions to decisions that couldn’t be predicted. In other words, there will always be unknowns. What social sciences can do, in combination with other holistic approaches, like including local and Indigenous knowledge, is meaningfully consider and engage with the people who live, work, and play by the sea. Those triangular blocks might not make the seams airtight, but they’re sure going to fill a lot of holes.
Photo used with permission from Maryssa Fenwick // Crux Design Co.