The oceans are warming, are we ready?

Adapting decision-making to rapid shifts in the context of climate change

by Laura Kaikkonen

“Hot water floats and hot air rises. That’s all you need to understand how climate change affects the ocean.” A week of discussing climate change adaptation and social equity in marine socio-ecological systems starts with the basics. Guided by researchers with expertise ranging from ecology to philosophy, I had the pleasure to attend the first summer school held by Centre for Marine Socioecology in Hobart, Australia, which brought participants from both natural and social sciences together to learn about interdisciplinary approaches to climate change adaptation.

Socioecological research in the context of the way climate change affects the oceans means that in addition to considering the direct impacts we usually hear about – warming temperatures, sea-level rise, range shifts in marine species –, we would also be considering the interlinked consequences of environmental changes on the society. So instead of looking at the different parts of the puzzle separately, during the course, we would hear how they can be studied together –combining the ‘ecological bits’ with the ‘human bits’.

While the physics of climate change seem more or less straightforward, the rest of the chain is a tougher cookie. Living things are much more complicated to predict than molecules, as organisms tend to be pickier about their environment. Even small changes may tip the system and there are still many uncertainties about which direction the system will tip. Human behavior adds yet another layer of potential consequences of environmental changes (we have limited insights into other species’ socio-ecological systems, so we’ll stick to human systems).

Another thing to consider is that the impacts are not distributed evenly. The temperature shift is not going to be 1.5°C everywhere. Similarly, not everyone has the right to the same quality of protection from the extreme events that we may expect to happen more frequently in the future. Wealthier areas tend to have better resources to prepare for sea-level rise, coastal erosion, and floods. In addition to coastal security, other societal impacts include potential consequences for livelihoods, food production and nutrient supply, and mental health.

In addition to discussing interdisciplinary approaches to socioecological changes, the central activity of the summer school was to develop a collaborative interdisciplinary project proposal in response to a real-world problem identified by representatives from various marine stakeholder groups. Our group had the pleasure of working with WWF Australia on how governance can adapt to rapid environmental changes caused by shifting marine currents.

Marine currents are changing direction, and that change can be abrupt and unexpected. In the marine environment, when temperature changes, everything changes. These fundamental changes in marine ecosystems will also affect those whose livelihoods depend on marine resources, like fisheries. From a management point of view, rapid shifts in the marine environment present challenges due to the uncertainty of both their magnitude and timing. Rapid and unexpected events may result in situations that we are not prepared for, and we may find our decision-making toolkit incomplete. The essential challenge we’re facing is that governance is based on thinking we know the system is going to work in the future, yet rapid shifts in the environment may rock the boat unexpectedly. So how do we make decisions to adapt to abrupt changes?

While scientific knowledge is an important part of the decision-making, you can’t really tell in advance how people are going to react to changes in their livelihoods, or especially how they will feel about them. A seemingly simple change, such as an increase in temperature by 0.3°C, may have a strong cascading effect on fish and through that on aquaculture, creating complex chains of events that are challenging to predict.

To help us focus on potential solutions rather than envisioning all the challenges (there were many!), we were given an example of an unexpected solution to a rapid environmental change from oil spill combating. In 2001, 438 little penguins were affected by an oil spill near Phillip Island in Australia. Many penguins die when they ingest the poisonous oil while trying to clean off their bodies, yet the local NGO’s realized that if the birds are wearing sweaters, they wouldn’t be able to get their mouths on the oil. No one had thought of that before, yet nowadays little sweaters knitted for penguins are an important part oil spill combating in Australia.

This concrete case showed us that being able to visualize the different situations we may find ourselves in, can help us find practical solutions to the challenges we face. Putting this into a larger context, we agreed – after diverse discussions – that one way to prepare for decision-making under unexpected circumstances – a rapid shift in the direction of a marine current, for instance – would be to simulate and imagine multiple situations and to observe what kind of decisions different actors take. This would help us see what we are not prepared for, and to find gaps in our current decision-making system to adapt to rapid changes.

Throughout the week, we saw multiple examples of different methods being used to integrate expertise and engage with different actors and knowledge systems. It became clear that together was the word we’d want to focus on.

As the week drew to an end, we had shaped up a proposal that we were surprisingly happy about, which was all about preparing decision-makers for abrupt changes by working and devising solutions together. We wouldn’t have the tools and skills to execute our plan ourselves, but what we had learned is how incredibly complicated environmental issues may be, and how much further you can get when you get different people with different skills and views around the table. In addition to letting us experience the different stages of interdisciplinary group work within just a few days, the course highlighted that bringing together different disciplines, actors, and knowledge systems is not only beneficial but fundamental to find equitable solutions to the uncertain changes in our environment due to climate change.

This post was inspired by the Centre for Marine Socioecology’s interdisciplinary summer school held in Hobart February 3rd-7th 2020. Presentations from all conveners, guest speakers, and discussions with my group members Florence Briton, Peter Pusic, Kim Baldry and Samuel Tsao were (in addition to being fun and awesome humans) a great source of inspiration for writing this post.

Laura works as a PhD researcher in the Fisheries and Environmental Management Group and is currently visiting the Centre for Marine Socioecology and CSIRO in Hobart as a part of her PhD research.




Insights from The BONUS BALTIMARI “From Research to Practice” Workshop

By Tuuli Parviainen

World Maritime University (WMU) Malmö, Sweden. Source:

On December 18th, 2019 at the World Maritime University (WMU) in Mälmö, Sweden the BONUS BALTIMARI project hosted a one-day workshop, titled “From Research to Practice.” This blog post summarizes some of the thoughts and remarks made by the workshop participants and highlights the important role of knowledge brokers in integrating different forms of knowledge and bringing the worlds of science and policy-making closer together.

BONUS BALTIMARI “From Research to Practice” Workshop

Global trade relies on maritime transport. However, the environmental impacts of shipping are significant and include, for example, air pollution, sewage discharges from passenger ships, invasive species transported in ballast water or on hulls, and the risk of large-scale accidents, like oil spills. The shipping industry is also responsible for approximately two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The EU BONUS BALTIMARI project’s (2019-2020) intent is to provide a review of the state-of-the-art risk management strategies for maritime activities, including shipping, in the Baltic Sea.

The purpose of the BONUS BALTIMARI “From Research to Practice” workshop at WMU was to understand and improve the efficacy of science communication between the research community and Baltic maritime risk management groups and their adoption of research results. The participants included researchers from different domains, maritime administrators from Baltic Sea countries, as well as industry stakeholders. The presentations and discussion sessions focused on the barriers to science communication and the adoption of scientific findings, as well as best practices to support the use of science in practice.

Researchers and End-Users are “Worlds Apart”

Research helps both researchers and end-users gain a deeper understanding of the risks maritime transport poses and contributes to effective planning and risk management. However, the way research is used by practitioners, administrators, or industry members is not always linear or straightforward in reality. Several barriers often limit knowledge transfer, including differing objectives, needs, scopes, priorities, and institutional settings, as well as the lack of common language, e.g. common definitions of key terms or understanding of the potentially different definitions.

The main challenges identified by the workshop participants were, perhaps unsurprisingly, time and money. For example, administrators or policy-makers rarely have time to keep up with scientific work, read scientific papers, or participate in scientific seminars. In addition, many participants pointed out that research must be timely and meet end-users’ needs. Researchers frequently carry out their projects and only afterward stop to consider the needs of the potential end-users, which one of the participants referred to as the “we hope they will use it” – mentality. Clearly, this is an ineffective strategy for improving risk management. Instead, as many suggested, research should be linked to the policy from the start. The participants also noted that researchers rarely understand how policy-making works, know the relevant regulations, or the current state of policy processes, like changes in legislation, etc. Practitioners and policy-makers, on the other hand, are not well aware of researchers’ work. In summary, the researchers’ and end-users’ work is currently “worlds apart”.

“Collaboration, Collaboration, and Collaboration Is the Key”

How could we overcome these barriers and challenges? Collaborate. However, the academic world does not always support collaboration outside the university environment. To promote collaboration, we again need money and time, as well as commitment and communication. For example, building trust between collaborators, which is essential for all successful partnerships, can take years. Unfortunately, project-based academic research does not always allow enough time for fostering meaningful relationships between different stakeholders and developing trust and a common language. More flexibility in projects could allow for a wider range of stakeholders to participate in the research process. Further, ideas, like, exchanging the citation index for an uptake index as a measure of achievement were thrown around. Industry’s role was also seen as essential – industry stakeholders should be involved from the beginning in research projects, especially when it comes to research that “we need to get right the first time around”, e.g. research into methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

On the positive side, there have already been a few successful examples of collaborative projects. For example, the participants mentioned the “Clean Shipping Project Platform” ( or the Swedish Finnish Maritime Collaboration “Fairway Forward” (

Similarly, the new regulations to control nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions (introduction of NECAs and SECAs in the Baltic Sea), and the Baltic Sea sewage discharge regulations ( were described as powerful examples of how research has contributed to the development of new environmental regulations.

The Role of Knowledge Brokers in Knowledge Transfer

The discussions during the workshop indicated that single-disciplinary knowledge or expertise is not sufficient to inform risk assessment and management decisions. Indeed, the importance of transdisciplinary science and collaborative risk management and governance is increasingly emphasized in scientific literature, especially when risks are complex, uncertainty is high and there are different understandings and perceptions of the risks.

Toward the end of the workshop, the role of knowledge brokers was mentioned. Knowledge brokers can be, for example, organizations, individuals or even scientific models. Scientific models that help “translate” research into practice are referred to as boundary objects.  Typically, these types of models are built using participatory methods, which include stakeholders in defining, for example, research questions or the model structure. This approach can help to improve and support trust and communication, and, ultimately, the collaboration between stakeholders. Thus, participatory models integrate different types of knowledge from different disciplinary domains and different sources, i.e. traditional or local knowledge, which could contribute to the establishment of a comprehensive picture of multi-layered risks and promote knowledge transfer. In sum, knowledge brokers could provide a vital link between knowledge producers and knowledge users in maritime risk management.

This work resulted from the BONUS BALTIMARI project, supported by BONUS (Art 185), funded jointly by the EU, the Academy of Finland, the Swedish Research Council Formas, the Polish National Centre for Research and Development, and the Estonian Research Council.

Find out more about the BONUS BALTMARI project at

Tuuli is a member of the University of Helsinki’s MARISK research group

Boats, Boats, Boats!

By Lauri Ronkainen

Lauri works for the COMPLETE project , which aims to optimally manage and reduce the risk of invasive species introduced via shipping.

Join the latest COMPLETE event on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, at the Nessling Nest. More at:

Photo by Tapio Haaja on Unsplash

Boating season brings an impressive number of recreational vessels of all kinds to the inland lakes and coastal areas of the Baltic Sea. For example, 2018 brought almost 13 000 motorboats and 3 500 sailboats to Helsinki alone ( Although boating is a great way to spend your summer holidays, it poses a threat to ecosystems, as boats are sources of toxic substances and act as vectors for unintentional species introductions.

For a boater, organisms attached to their boat’s surface, a phenomenon known as biofouling, are a nuisance. These organisms create friction, thus decreasing the speed of the boat. You might have seen a good example of this in the news last May when solo sailor, Tapio Lehtinen, struggled with barnacles attached to his sailboat’s hull during this year’s Golden Globe Race. You can easily examine the biofouling phenomena yourself too: just immerse a piece of plastic, metal, or a wooden stick into the sea, and within a short time, it will be covered in slime. This problem has existed since the first boat set sail, and the first reports of methods to prevent biofouling (known as anti-fouling) followed their launch, dating back to 700 B.C. (see Yebra et al. 2004).

Nowadays, a common way to prevent biofouling is anti-fouling paints. The basic idea is that seawater reacts with a biocide-acting component in the painted layer, which leaches onto the hull’s surface, preventing organisms from attaching. Tin-based TBT-paints dominated the market for a long time and were the pinnacle of both effectiveness and toxicity. However, TBT was banned in EU 2008 and replaced by copper, after which came zinc-based paints, and other “biocide-free” solutions. In addition to the paints, various “booster” biocides are used to enhance anti-fouling the process. However, all of these solutions, the boosters and the paints, are also toxic to non-target organisms. Fortunately, there are exceptions. So-called “fouling release” coatings prevent organisms from attaching because they create a slippery surface, similar to Teflon pans. These have their own problems though. They are expensive and vulnerable to physical damage.

In the Baltic Sea, the anti-fouling paints have generally been found to be too effective (Bighiu et al. 2017). The leaching rate of copper is inversely related to salinity, meaning that the same paint leaches more copper in the Gulf of Finland than in the southern Baltic Proper. This leads to the conclusion that areas where boating activity is high and salinity is low, are more vulnerable to copper loading. Moreover, even during the high season, many boats are moored the majority of the time, leading to passive leaching and high concentrations of anti-fouling biocide in harbor areas. Fortunately, the concentration of the main toxic ion (Cu2+) is usually low due to reduction reactions in the water and their high affinity to organic material.

In addition to anti-fouling paints, non-indigenous species (NIS) are also on the list of the boater’s environmental woes. In the worst cases, NIS can have major ecological, environmental, and economic impacts. NIS with the most severe impacts are usually tolerant of varying temperature and salinity conditions and toxic substances, thus enabling them to effectively occupy new habitats when they are introduced. The number biofouling NIS taxa do not vary much between the Baltic Sea basins, but there are some differences in species found in each basin. Species diversity increases with increasing salinity: while there are seven NIS in the Baltic Proper and the Kattegat – Arkona Sea area’s commercial ports, this number increases to 42 in the saltier southern North Sea ( ). Many of the NIS in the Kattegat – Arkona Sea area originate from the North Sea. Thus, in the same way, recreational boats may continue to facilitate the spread of NIS within the Baltic Sea in the future.

So what can you do as a conscientious boater?

  1. Choose your anti-fouling paint according to the area you plan to travel and check that the paint you choose is on the list of permitted anti-fouling products (
  2. Remember that if you applied a new layer of paint this year, it may be still effective next year. No need to reapply.
  3. If you are planning to travel in a very low salinity area, it is advisable not to apply paint at all, but instead, use mechanical cleaning methods (read more from
  4. If you travel between basins, be aware of the biofouling NIS in the area and learn to recognize them. You can check the species present in Finland and report your observations at
  5. Be extra aware when moving through marine protected areas, they are especially vulnerable to external impacts, and releasing a NIS or increasing pollution load to the area may have severe consequences (see protected areas from

Otherwise, keep your eyes on the horizon and start preparing yourself for another magical summer on the water!


Bighiu, M. A., Eriksson-Wiklund, A. K., & Eklund, B. (2017). Biofouling of leisure boats as a source of metal pollution. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 24(1), 997-1006.

Yebra, D. M., Kiil, S., & Dam-Johansen, K. (2004). Antifouling technology—past, present and future steps towards efficient and environmentally friendly antifouling coatings. Progress in organic coatings, 50(2), 75-104.

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