Policy Day 2023

We are excited to announce that – following MARE’s tradition – the 2023 People and the Sea Conference will kick off with a Policy Day. The focus of this year’s policy day is on Marine Nature Restoration and will will take place on 26 June 2023. The event will bring together policymakers, industry leaders, and researchers to discuss the latest policy developments and research on the topic. Please read the full policy day description below.

Marine (nature) restoration: examining ambitions and impacts in an era of upscaling

For long, marine nature conservation has focused on protecting habitats and species through measures such as the implementation of marine protected areas. Yet the realization is growing that preventive measures alone do not suffice. Over the last decade there has been a shift from ‘hands-off’ approaches towards the more ‘hands-on’ and active rehabilitation of marine nature to restore ocean health. This is  exemplified by new proposed EU legislation for nature restoration, and the UN Decade of Ecological Restoration. Thus, instead of attempting to exclude human interventions in nature, restoration makes use of human intervention and care practices to ‘repair’, ‘restore’ or even ‘enhance’ marine nature. This goes hand in hand with the application of (bio-)technological advances.

With climate change, coastal adaptation projects are becoming more and more urgent, A dynamic understanding of restoration that incorporates the changing state of coastal and marine environments, such as the ‘building with nature’ approach, is required. Restoration may thus contribute to regional development, coastal safety and community empowerment, and serve new or existing ecosystem functions such as eco-tourism. However, the current proliferation of restoration projects worldwide also raises crucial questions around the fair distribution of benefits and responsibilities.

Restoration policies and programs commonly aim to bring back a natural ecological state that is assumed to be lost. However, restoration also produces ‘new natures’ that are inherently unstable, hybrid, malleable, and can serve different or combined purposes. Marine restoration is therefore normative by design: what do we understand to be a healthy ecological state? What kind of (scientific, lay, indigenous) knowledge is included or excluded to inform intervention? What is a good reef or seagrass bed to restore and for whom? What and whose definition of biodiversity underpins policies to restore it? What are the social impacts of restoration policies and programs?

This MARE policy day coincides with the EU’s proposal for a Nature Restoration Law, the UN Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, and the UN decade of Ocean Science. The slogan of the latter – ‘the science we need for the ocean we want’ – in fact calls for a discussion which we would like to have at this policy day where we critically reflect on the questions formulated above with scientists, stakeholders and policy officers.