In commemoration of the UN World Oceans Day on June 8th, UNU-IAS OUIK organized the webinar “The Coastal Seascapes We Want! – Voices of Women Scientists in Ocean Research”. For the first time, this webinar brought together a full lineup of women speakers, who are scientists and ocean activists of different nationalities and whose work is based in Japan.
The ocean is our life source, supporting all life on earth and also humanity’s sustenance. The theme for World Oceans Day 2021 is “The ocean: our life and livelihoods”. The year 2021 also marks the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021 to 2030). In this ocean decade, the world is expected to come together to build a new cooperative framework to ensure that global ocean science provides greater benefits for ocean ecosystems and wider society. Thus, the webinar also called for diverse expertise and a holistic understanding of the ocean, including greater emphasis on social sciences and focus on coastal seascapes, to address the UN Ocean Decade of Ocean Science’s call for “The Science We Need For The Ocean We Want”.
Moderated by Ms Mikiko Mikiko, Liaison Coordinator (UNU-IAS OUIK), the webinar started with brief presentations from four speakers on their passion for the ocean and experiences working on ocean-related research, particularly conserving coastal seascapes, their biodiversity, and related livelihoods.
Dr Evonne Yiu, Research Consultant (UNU-IAS OUIK), introduced “the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and Conserving coastal seascapes and livelihoods through the Noto Satoumi Movement in Ishikawa, Japan”. Dr Yiu gave an overview of the challenges faced by the oceans and explained the need for more ocean science to better inform, understand and take urgent actions to save our oceans. However, she pointed out that the current ocean science is very much focused on natural sciences. Still, social sciences and humanities disciplines are also crucial for the holistic understanding of the root causes and drivers of ocean issues. Social sciences need also be integrated into ocean studies for a holistic, robust knowledge of ocean issues and devising an inclusive approach to ocean conservation.
She highlighted that as billions of people depend on the ocean for their livelihoods, understanding the human factor involved and ensuring the sustainability of these livelihoods goes hand in hand with keeping a healthy ocean. She also introduced the UNU-IAS OUIK Noto Satoumi Movement, a research and outreach effort since 2015 to promote the understanding of the Satoumi (coastal seascapes) concept and raise ocean livelihoods’ visibility Satoumi, and bridge traditional and local knowledge with science and policy.
Dr Piera Biondi, a researcher of the University of the Ryukyus and training manager of the OCEANCY MTU, shared her research on reef restoration and coastal construction in Okinawa, Japan. Currently residing in her hometown in Italy, Dr Biondi conducted her PhD research in Okinawa from 2017 to 2020 on the effect of restoration on coral cover and cryptofauna biodiversity conducted by the Okinawa Prefecture Office since 2011. Her study found no significant impact in increasing biodiversity or coral cover, suggesting that the coral reef still needs to be protected. She also shared other research on Okinawa coastal marine biodiversity, which found that artificial sites characterized by reduced abundance (total) and diversity of mobile cryptofauna (Masucci et al. 2021) and that less than 40% of Okinawa’s coastline remain in a natural status (Masucci & Reimer 2020). Dr Biondi stressed that conserving coastal seascapes is critically important as coastal ecosystems such a seagrass meadow, coral reefs, wetlands, mangroves only exists in shallow areas of which the main part is the coastline. These same areas also represent nurseries of species that will move in pelagic waters as adults. Conserving and restoring coral reefs and coastal environment is critical for the quality of livelihoods of people.
Dr Junko Toyoshima, Researcher, Ocean Policy Research Institute, shared on three case studies that depicted how Japan’s Satoumi-type integrated coastal management can be effective for biodiversity conservation. In Shiretoko, Hokkaido Prefecture, the national government, local governments, businesses, fishery operators work together to comprehensively manage the World Heritage areas. Some success is found with the government-led management of Steller’s sea lions, as well as increased spawning beds of salmons observed upstream at spots where river structures were improved. In Shima city, Mie Prefecture, the number of species and population of organisms increased at both the artificial tidal flat creation site and the tidal flat restoration site under the Ago Bay Project, where industry, government, academia and the private sector worked together to develop the technique for tidal flat restoration and a monitoring system to monitor water quality for restoring the ecosystems of Ago Bay. In Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture, eelgrass bed restoration activities (collecting and sowing eelgrass seeds) by local fishers since 1985 have seen significant improvement of eelgrass beds and better outcomes for biodiversity and fisheries. In summary, Dr Toyoshima stressed that the involvement of many stakeholders, especially fishers and the private sector, and identifying the key person/agency to lead the efforts are key to success for Satoumi conservation.
Ms Alana Bonzi, Co-founder and Director, SEGO Initiative and Adjunct Lecturer, Keio University, shared experiences of SEGO Initiative to promote citizen science in coastal seascapes conservation in Fujisawa, Japan. Originally from Trinidad and Tobago and Canadian in nationality, Ms Bonzi and her husband Michel co-founded the SEGO Initiative, a not-for-profit association, to do something for the oceans they both love. The SEGO initiative grew out of their Satoumi focused Fujisawa Beach Cleaning Project they started in 2009. The Project includes volunteering with local residents, families, and corporate employees to promote corporate social responsibility and has since expanded to public education events to encourage reconnection with the oceans through sailing and artistic expressions. Such outreach efforts also include Expo Mer Fujisawa, an art and sustainability series sparking the imagination needed to recreate an ocean without plastic and an educational webinar series to learn about oceans issues with the participation and support from domestic and overseas experts, artists, and participants. In recent years, the initiative has launched the Satoyama focused Organic Farming Project to enhance awareness of the land and sea connection. Through these activities, she hopes people can feel closer to the sea, as well as experience the beauty and fragility of the marine ecosystem so that we can reimagine our future with oceans.
At the panel discussion facilitated by Dr Yiu, the speakers first talked about their experiences of being women scientists and activists in the oceans. All speakers did not really encounter challenges as a woman in ocean research but instead felt that women have more freedom in career choices, more vocal, more adventurous, more curious and probe for more information, and attentive to women’s role and plight in ocean communities. In their course of work, the speakers have also met many outstanding women ocean scientists and conservationists, as well as many knowelgeable and skillful women working as fishers and in other professions that support ocean livelihoods. Ocean livelihoods undoubtedly have an even gender mix, but we need to make women’s roles more visible and encourage more women working behind the scenes to stand out and voice out for the oceans. Participants also actively gave questions and comments; some include the land and sea connection, protecting coastlines, ocean outreach efforts, and the balance between tourism and ocean conservation, etc. These discussions reinforced our understanding of the importance and urgent need to conserve our coastal marine ecosystems, address land-based pollutants and drivers on marine biodiversity, and engage widely to bring the people closer to the oceans. Concluding, all speakers looked forward to seeing more integration of natural sciences and social sciences for the oceans, more attention given to the conservation of coastal ecosystems, and more people, women, men and others, joining us to take ocean actions in the UN Decade of Ocean Science.
Some comments from the participants received during and after the webinar are as below:
“Great presentation…women make the world the beautiful place for life through keeping ocean life.”
“It is a powerful webinar indeed. In the global south, ocean life is most threatened due to poor life style which threatens ocean life. I am interested in undergoing research in this field bringing the global south perspective in this field of ocean Life.”
“An amazing dialogue featuring voices of women scientists and women in action. Very inspiring to hear first hand stories.”
“47% of Japan’s coastline is full of concrete. It’s time to wake up and live with nature and not treat it like an enemy.”
“I’d like to say “thank you very much” for this opportunity. It was a wonderful webinar! I’m interested in the topics “Land and Sea connection” but more interested in the roll of female researcher/activist in this topics.”
Please also check the recorded video of this webinar on our YouTube channel for the details.