JUNE 21, 2017


CONTACT: Melissa Poe, Social Scientist, Washington Sea Grant at 206-685-8209 or email


Conservation Needs to be About People, Too


The book Conservation in the Anthropocene Ocean is an interdisciplinary guide for reframing conservation science and practice to better connect with the needs of a growing global human population facing many uncertainties.

Seattle – Conservation is evolving. The field that once pitted humans and nature against each other is reorienting toward an understanding that they are part of a shared Earth. And while the oceans may feel removed to those of us who spend our days on land, our seas are deeply connected to the global economy, and to many people’s very way of life.

Which means that it’s time to approach conservation as a practice that protects nature while also embracing human values and needs. A new book, Conservation for the Anthropocene Ocean: Interdisciplinary Science in Support of Nature and People, attempts to lay the framework for how to approach conservation at a time in which humans and nature are inextricably entwined. The book was co-edited by Phillip Levin, lead scientist of The Nature Conservancy-Washington and Professor of Practice in the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and Melissa Poe, social science liaison with Washington Sea Grant of the University of Washington and NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

While humans have been shaping the oceans and using them for food and transportation for hundreds of thousands of years, over the past century or two we collectively became a dominant influence on the global ocean, through human-caused phenomena like overfishing, ocean acidification and coastal development. “To be sure, we are now living in the Anthropocene—an age reflecting the cumulative history of anthropogenic changes to our planet,” writes Levin in the book. The extent of human-driven environmental change creates a sense of urgency behind conservation efforts.

At the same time, those conservation efforts must keep people at the forefront: conservation must recognize and seek to ameliorate the ways in which people are impacted by the very environmental changes that we collectively cause, and how various stakeholders could be impacted by environmental policy. Overfishing today will impact our ability to feed the world’s nine-billion people of tomorrow. Ocean acidification will threaten cultures of those who for thousands of years have relied on the sea as a way of life. Rapid coastal development will not only degrade shoreline habitat, but expose more and more people to the hazards of sea level rise.

“Conservation in the Anthropocene shall scarcely be status quo,” writes Poe. “As we work toward a livable future, our solutions will likely be far different than the sustainability reference points based on systems of the past.” Going forward requires attention to our interconnectedness, Poe explains, especially as the benefits and burdens of change in the Anthropocene Ocean are not equally shared amongst the global population. That is: “the responsibilities we have with nature and with one another as we make decisions that help us adapt and thrive in just, honorable, and sustainable ways.”

The book, written by 67 contributors from science and conservation institutions around the globe with students, researchers and resource managers in mind, takes an interdisciplinary approach to moving marine conservation science forward. Its chapters cover the relationship between science and policy; the major issues impacting the oceans today; the complex connections between community needs, resource use, environmental damage and human rights; and how to design conservation actions that account for these complexities.

The book will be discussed in an online panel discussion on Thur., June 22, featuring Levin, Poe, and contributors Eddie Allison of the University of Washington, Terre Satterfield of the University of British Columbia, Katie Arkema of Stanford University and Jenna Sullivan of Oregon State University.


Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

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