Maritime insecurity and sustainable development: building bridges of knowledge

As a social species we human beings rely on communication to achieve our individual and common ends, but work in collaborative initiatives can often highlight the limitations of language. Having participated in a great seminar on Maritime Security and Sustainable Development coordinated by Coventry University’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies, it was interesting to hear other people’s opinion on this very subject.

One aspect of discussions that drew attention from attendees, rapporteurs and coordinators was the differing perspectives and understandings that people from different research disciplines can attach to simple words. An attendee commented on how the word ‘risk’, for example, could mean widely different things to people from diverse professional backgrounds. The importance of making an effort to see how someone may be relating to a topic under discussion cannot be overestimated: communication barriers can stop a project before it starts as potential stakeholders can misunderstand the relevance of an issue to them or their business.

At the seminar, the notion that maritime security and sustainable development are distinct academic and professional fields created difficulty when debating concept overlap. Yet, building bridges of knowledge between the areas of maritime security and sustainable development is not as counter-intuitive as it may at first appear. This became apparent when our seminar group began to explore the nature of policy and research stakeholders that would have an interest in each field: before long it became clear that the overlap was so substantial that the stakeholder lists were practically identical. Further debate exposed some causal factors that link both issues, such as the breakdown of the rule of law and failed maritime policies (not necessarily always associated to failed or fragile States). Certainly illegal fishing can be understood as a manifestation of both maritime insecurity and unsustainable resource allocation, development and commercial policies.

Along similar lines, at the 2014 Fishery Dependency Information Conference held in Rome, conclusions seem to have been revolving around the need to break down communication barriers between fishery stakeholders and scientists. Collaboration is key and mutual trust and understanding is not only desirable but vital for the achievement of reliable data and a genuine understanding of human impacts on the marine environment.

Breaking down communication barriers means bringing together disparity and promoting knowledge, inclusivity and respect. Bridging understanding gaps ultimately unites people in the pursuit of a common goal – we need those bridges of knowledge to bring the fragments together and understand the whole: devising truly sustainable ocean utilisation policies depends largely on this.