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Institutional change, sustainability and the sea

Schlüter, A., Wise, S., Manez, K.S., de Morais, G. and Glaser, M. (2013) Institutional change, sustainability and the sea. Sustainability, 5 (12). pp. 5373-5390.

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Currently, a substantial institutional change is under way for marine and coastal resources. Sustainability plays a major role therein. At the time of writing, roughly 2.3% of the marine and coastal territory has been declared a Marine Protected Area (MPA). The Convention of Biological Diversity set a target to protect 10% of the global marine environment by 2020. This move toward enclosure signifies a substantial shift away from mainly open access to at least de jure marine protected areas. What drives institutional change towards MPAs; and what role does sustainability play in this change in governance? In reflecting on these questions, the paper’s aim is to begin a dialogue on how the social-ecological system (SES) analytical framework developed by Elinor Ostrom and her collaborators engages differentially with marine and coastal systems. How institutional change takes place depends on the characteristics of the resources considered and the drivers of change for the particular resource. In order to characterize the marine and coastal realm we use the social-ecological system (SES) framework of Elinor Ostrom. Douglas North’s theory of institutional change is used to classify the change observed. The marine realm has ambiguous system boundaries and often high resource mobility. Uncertainties about system properties and change are much higher than for terrestrial systems. Interdependencies among different ecosystems are high, necessitating multi-level governance. Institutional change in this sector occurs under strong institutional path dependencies and competing ideologies. All these features make it particularly relevant to think about institutional change, sustainability and the current process of MPA expansion.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: Asia Research Centre
Publisher: Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute
Copyright: The Authors
Publishers Website: http:/
Notes: © 2013 by the authors; licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (
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