MINI REVIEW article
Sec. Marine Affairs and Policy
Volume 9 - 2022 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2022.816609
Academic Engagement with Wadden Sea Stakeholders: A Review of Past Foci and Possible Futures
- 1School of the Environment, Yale University, New Haven, CT, United States
- 2Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity (HIFMB), Oldenburg, Germany
- 3Institute for Chemistry and Biology of the Sea, Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, University of Oldenburg, Oldenburg, Germany
- 4Alfred Wegener Institute Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI), Bremerhaven, Germany
The Wadden Sea became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 owing to its geographical and ecological importance. Given its status and its global recognition, academic understanding of, and engagement with, a diverse set of stakeholders is crucial to the sustainability of the Wadden Sea and the wildlife that inhabit its transnational boundaries. As such, this paper reviews with whom, how, and to what extent the academy has engaged with Wadden Sea stakeholders. This study finds that stakeholder groups (whom, with vested interests in the sea, might be expected to be present) are missing from academic publications focused on stakeholders in the Wadden Sea. Moreover, existing studies tend to focus on singular, categorized stakeholder ‘groups’, and lack transboundary integration, as well as reference to UN Sustainability Goal 14 – a key target for environmental protection. In sum, the review provides (1) an analysis of academic work that engages Wadden Sea stakeholders to assist future researchers undertaking work in this global ecologically significant area, and (2) a discussion of where future academic work might be developed.
The Wadden Sea, a natural UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest tidal flat system in the world (Walsh, 2018). As Döring, Walsh and Egberts note (2021, 226), “following decades of international cooperation and conservation efforts, the Wadden Sea … is recognized as one of the last remaining large-scale natural landscapes or areas of ‘wilderness’ in central Europe (Rösner 2018; Stock 2020)”. Rightly challenging its construction as ‘pristine’ environment, critical academic scholarship is now examining the Wadden Sea in an array of necessary ways, from its biodiversity, to its cultural significance. This is exemplified in a recent special issue of Maritime Studies (featuring papers by Döring et al., 2021; Döring and Ratter, 2021; Egberts and Riesto, 2021; Walsh, 2021).
This mini review is situated in a mere corner of this important literature, but aims to contribute further to it, by understanding the shape of academic engagements with the Wadden Sea. It offers a small-scale study that examines with whom, how, and to what extent the academy has engaged with Wadden Sea stakeholders. Such a review is arguably relevant. Academics are knowledge-makers and information-sharers. They have a key role in producing what is known about the world in any given field (cf. Harding, 1986). Being self-critical of how we (academics) (co)produce knowledge about/with stakeholders, and how positionality manifests in our scholarship has important implications on the governance and conservation of space (Macnaghten and Chilvers, 2014).
In what follows the paper examines which stakeholders have been most actively included in academic literature about the Wadden Sea. It does so to 1) synthesize studies of Wadden Sea stakeholder engagement as they appear in the academic literature as a compilation for other scholars wishing to understand the shape, focus, and extent of previous stakeholder studies of the area (this particularly relevant for grounding future research); and 2) to elucidate what stakeholders perspectives might be absent from such work and what perspectives could be pursued in future work.
Setting the Scene
Bordered by Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany, the Wadden Sea is situated in the Southeast corner of the North Sea which is fed by the Ems, Elbe, and Weser rivers. It has tidal actions that cause the water to retract up to ~4 km twice daily, leaving behind vast mudflats that harbor a diverse array of bottom-dwelling marine organisms (Wolff, 2013). In addition to being a lifeline for biodiversity including plankton, fish, birds, and mammals, it is also home to a conglomerate of human activity including tourism, energy production, and ports (Christianen et al., 2017; Baird and Asmus, 2020). With ecological diversity, economic vitality, and cultural heritage, the Wadden Sea is an area of many ‘stakes’ (e.g. Grotenbreg and Altamirano, 2019; Horn et al., 2021). Indeed, there are a diverse array of stakeholders each with a vested interest in the Wadden Sea. It is thus a space of competing and conflictual uses and therefore at risk of overexploitation, development, and climate change, amidst other stressors (Gittenberger et al., 2016). As such, it takes a diverse set of organizations, agencies, and everyday people to manage the vast and ever changing seascape.
The governance of the Wadden Sea stretches scales from the regional to the international. An intergovernmental agency made of two independent bodies shares governing responsibilities over the sea: The Trilateral Governmental Council and the Wadden Sea Board (WSB). The governing bodies of the Wadden Sea stretch over 40 islands, encompassing eight national parks. Zooming in, there are a number of regional bodies that are responsible for particular spaces and protected areas encompassing the Wadden Sea. For example, in Germany, inland areas of the Wadden Sea are stewarded regionally by entities such as the Lower Saxony Water Management. Other areas, such as the Wadden Sea National Park in Denmark, are controlled by an amalgamation of national and international agreements. Overall governance of the Wadden Sea seeks to protect coastlines, ensure healthy environments for human, non-human and more-than-human use, and more recently, works to fulfil sustainable development goals including SDG14 delineating sustainable use of oceans (see Chezel and Nadaï, 2019; Kwiatkowski et al., 2020).
To date, there have been several academic studies focused on stakeholder engagement in the Wadden Sea, including the intergovernmental management of fisheries and work that maps the social-ecological landscape of the region (see van Hoof, 2012 and Sijtsma et al., 2019 respectively). This, and other work, is revealing of the range of issues and competing interests in the Wadden Sea and in turn, shines a light on the complexity of its governance. However, a review of the range of academic work attending to stakeholders in the Wadden Sea is revealing of what stakes matter for academic attention (and in turn policy) and which stakes may be more obscured via the longstanding foci of Wadden Sea policy (i.e., wildlife conservation and coastal protection).
What follows is limited in its scope. The review emerged as part of a specific, time-limited study on academic engagements with stakeholders and scholarly published work (in peer-review sources). It forms part of a larger project connecting partners from three continents (across 3 study areas, of which the Wadden Sea is one), to address the multilayered interactions between biodiversity change and society1. This particular review did not extend to the vast grey literature on Wadden Sea stakeholders. This will form part of an additional future study. Drawing on the grey sources (policy reports, newspaper articles, magazine features, blogs, radio interviews and beyond), would reveal further findings about with whom and how academics engage with and share knowledge about stakeholders. Accordingly, this paper offers a small, but nonetheless revealing, intervention to contemporary Wadden Sea research.
Why Does Understanding Academic Engagements with Stakeholders Matter?
Governance encompasses “a wide range of actors in the production of policy outcomes, including NGOs, private companies, pressure groups, and social movements as well as those state institutions traditionally regarded as part of government” (Johnston et al., 2002, 317). Such a shift from ‘government’ to governance has been vital for democratizing management of the marine environment and for increasing ‘buy in’ or confidence from different groups of ocean users who are more likely to support regimes of management, if they were part of developing them. Accordingly, ocean governance is a practice or process that increasingly involves a range of ‘stakes’ – and hence stakeholders – in order to achieve ocean outcomes reflective of a range of vested concerns and interests (UNESCO Ocean Decade, 2021). Broadly speaking, a stakeholder is defined as any “person, organization or group with an interest (professional or societal) or an influence on the marine environment or who is influenced directly or indirectly by activities and management decisions” (Newton and Elliott, 2016, 2). As such, understanding who stakeholders are (how vitally whether they are included or present in academic work and policy) is a fundamental part of understanding how governance happens, and in turn then, how specific visions of ocean futures come to be.
Within a Wadden Sea framework, stakeholders are vital because of the geographical location, economic importance, natural habitat, and historical-cultural legacy of this marine space (Koren, 2020). Many studies have sought to understand stakeholder roles and relationships in this significant sea. However, no study has sought to collate and analyze the scholar/stakeholder interface. Our study attempts this to illuminate what stakeholder perspectives are frequently attended-to in scholarly outputs on the Wadden Sea, and which might be absent and addressed in future work as scholars try to further democratize approaches to understanding the sea for biodiversity conservation.
Our review was conducted using the global database Web of Science, in addition with the University of Michigan Library system2 collating all returned peer-reviewed articles of original research from 2000 to the end of May 2021 pertaining to Wadden Sea stakeholder engagement. Applying PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews3, we constructed key search words and phrases (Moher et al., 2009). A complete list of search terms is in Table 1. We first read the various papers’ abstracts and titles and then selected the papers for subsequent full reads. The ones selected for full reads had to be original research studies printed in peer-reviewed journals. We excluded review or case study comparisons. Studies had to explicitly focus on the Wadden Sea by stating the paper’s geographical area within the borders set by UNESCO, including land and estuaries, or explicitly stating the Wadden Sea Region in their abstract or methods. Researchers had to clearly state who the stakeholder was, and the relationship being studied with the Wadden Sea. The relationship could have been stakeholder effects on the Wadden Sea region or vice versa. For these two reasons, we excluded studies that purely focused on pure natural scientific inquiry (e.g., shellfish competition effects on species fecundity). We then extracted relevant data from each paper to analyze key emergent themes.
Table 1 Search terms included ‘Wadden Sea engagement’, in addition to associated interest groups (i.e., tourism, medical, and energy) plus variants.
From our original searches, 4,772 different articles were suggested by our chosen databases. After removing duplicates, we then conducted title abstract reads as described above and removed 4,708 papers (primarily purely natural science based) resulting in 64 remaining citations. Of the 64 papers 51were ultimately decided on and relevant data was extracted and analyzed (Table 2). The final 13 papers were removed after full read-throughs for lack of supporting information or because they were purely theoretical.
Table 2 Final consortium of papers selected for review with indication of the the primary stakeholder targeted and country were stakeholders reside.
Most evident in the academic literature concerned with stakeholders in the Wadden Sea is that focus on particular ‘types’ of stakeholder dominate. Given that most papers center on aiding management and policy – especially surrounding water and climate mitigation – there is perhaps an unsurprising attention to protection and management (i.e. stakeholders directly engaged in this task). The Wadden Sea has a tumultuous history of storms that without human interference would likely increase in destruction as sea level rises (Lotze et al., 2005; Koh and de Jonge, 2014; de Groot et al., 2017). Academic engagements with stakeholders in engineering, management, and policy is perhaps to be expected. However, a concurrent viewpoint is that oftentimes academics engage with stakeholders based on an understated but rather well-understood idea that only certain subjects are typically relevant to decision making (see Flannery et al., 2018). This alerts us to limitations in how other stakeholders (beyond official management spheres) are included in, and part of, processes related to the research on the Wadden Sea. Yet as the general stakeholder literature reveals, incorporating a wider range of stakeholders – in academic research as well as directly in science projects – enables different knowledge to be revealed and the process of decision making to be more democratic (Newton and Elliott, 2016). Greater focus on stakeholders ‘missing’ from current analysis (military actors, diverse groups of tourists, coastal residents, pharmaceutical companies), could arguably increase the understanding of the uses of the Wadden Sea (Brinkhoff et al., 2004; Vanclay, 2012; Egberts and Hundstad, 2019).
Recognition of other stakeholders is particularly important given that the Wadden Sea is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (see Yun, 2015 for the importance of this status). Having the title of world heritage site implies an explicit understanding that these sites are meant to be protected for future generations. This necessitates a greater need for more voices to be captured in the academic literature that can inform decision makers. Missing stakeholders is not a new phenomenon, however, as in many cases there are both explicit and implicit drivers forcing out stakeholders from engagement in policy work, and academic reflections in the process. In some cases, there may be initial push-back from being named a world heritage site by locals (van der Aa et al., 2004). This sentiment happened in Germany where there was vocal opposition to being classified as a UNESCO site, alongside continued disagreements surrounding other industries such as energy (Wolsink, 2010; Winkler and Hauck, 2019). In this case contentious issues may drive a decline in participation of stakeholder work (see also Flannery et al., 2018).
Regionally Focused Papers
While the Wadden Sea is an international ecosystem, important to the economies of Denmark, Germany, and Netherlands, and utilized by thousands of people each year, papers that recognize the connectedness of stakeholders across the Wadden Sea are strikingly low. Only 7% of the papers surveyed engaged stakeholders from all three affected countries or also included internationally recognized stakeholders. Even fewer are papers that use bilateral analysis of stakeholder engagement. More importantly, many papers that use joint stakeholder analysis only occurred in the last three years, in spite of the naming Dutch and German parts of the Wadden Sea as a world heritage site in 2009 and Danish parts in 2014. Additionally, those joint papers have been explicitly confined to the ‘big’ stakeholder categories of policy and management surrounding decisions on climate change preparedness and mitigation. While working with and implementing stakeholders into academic work is difficult – most notably because of scheduling, dismissal, funding, and complex organization across international barriers – collective efforts are needed across countries and categories for the development and implementation of effective plans (Rodríguez-Izquierdo et al., 2010). The difficulty in collective work is further exacerbated because of the challenges of reconciling people, places and ‘problems’, where cartographic country borders do not represent the borders wildlife, ships, or commerce adhere to, for example.
Call for Explicit Integration of Sustainable Development Goals
Lastly, there is a globally-recognized need to meet SDGs. Specifically important with the Wadden Sea region are 13 (climate), 14 (which states that oceans must be used sustainably to ensure future generations can utilize their resources) and 15 (life on land) (United Nations, 2015). However, within the academic work on the Wadden Sea, there is a notable lack of work that reflects on the relationship between stakeholders and specific sustainable initiatives.
While we might expect a lack of acknowledgement given the relative novelty of SDG14 in specific stakeholder-centered scholarly work, it still warrants a discussion of where and how these connections can occur. Even though the current management of the Wadden Sea is not centered on sustainable development per se but rather on conservation of both wildlife and coastal environment, it is likely that SDGs overall and particularly SDG14 will become a relevant point of discussion as initiatives of the United Nations Oceans Decade takes shape (Kabat et al., 2012). Given the known efficacy of goal-oriented mindsets and the short timeframe in which to meet SDG14, there is the potential for efficacy in management outcomes if there were an increase in academic literature that addresses stakeholder engagements with SDGs in tandem with the Wadden Sea. Conceivably, without meeting SDG14 or other sustainable goals, dire consequences are likely for communities (social and ecological) with at-risk communities worst affected (Armstrong, 2020).
Understanding the status of the Wadden Sea, its diverse stakeholders, and the academics whom write about them in scholarly work, is important as the challenges of climate change put pressure on this area and those connected to it. What visions of the future are written into and out of scholarship through the power of academic authoring? What might be learned from the observations here, regarding the ways academics work with, and write about stakeholders? First, while ‘utilizing’ common, established, or ‘well known’ stakeholders is on par with current paradigms of governance, increasingly literature shows that incorporating new voices is best for successful policy implementation (Bryson et al., 2013; Michels and De Graaf, 2017). There is tremendous stakeholder-centered work that has resulted in the effective management of the Wadden Sea, especially that of balancing the needs of agriculture, sea level rise, tourism, and conservation (i.e., De Vos and Bush, 2011; Süsser, 2018; Liburd et al., 2020). However, we wonder whether academics may themselves work with and write wider stakeholder interests into their (our) work. This may be a vital part of democratizing knowledge. Often called tacit knowledge, this is localized and passed-down knowledge that is embedded into cultural practices but often overlooked in research studies (Nikas et al., 2017). Second, in addition to academics giving greater voice to those beyond the ‘typical’ stakeholder groups, is the need for greater work combining studies of stakeholders across borders (as well as-collaboration of researchers between borders). Recent work has rightly noted that governance can be complicated in the Wadden Sea due to differing conservation practices, embedded in different imaginaries of the space (Walsh, 2020). Work such as this – which recognizes complexities – is greatly needed, and in respect of stakeholders across borders. Because the policy sphere must think beyond borders when addressing issues such as transboundary biodiversity hotspots like the Wadden Sea, integrating stakeholder knowledge across conventional state lines is vital. This requires academic stakeholder research to reach outside of its often national ‘pockets’ (driven by national funding regimes), to more integrative cross-boundary approaches. This has challenges: often requiring more complex research designs, overcoming access issues, language barriers and so on, but it is vital for better grappling with ‘slippery’ environmental concerns. Third, in spite of the importance of the Wadden Sea in the context of SDGs, there is not, as yet, extensive work connecting-up academic engagement with stakeholders in understanding how stakeholders relate to SDGs, such as SDG14 particularly.
This mini review has asked with whom, how, and to what extent the academy has engaged with Wadden Sea stakeholders to show which stakeholders dominate in scholarly work, and which themes are examined, or not. Although the reach of peer-reviewed academic work can be limited (some journals can appear behind paywalls, books may be expensive) academics produce a currency of knowledge that informs how people and places become understood (which can feed into how they might be managed through linkages between science and policy). Understanding academic work is therefore part of the picture of governance. In the Wadden Sea particularly – with the looming climate crisis, the reality of rising seas, and temperature instability – continued academic work that engages stakeholders, but also critically reflects on that engagement, is necessary as both governments and conservation bodies look more critically at measures to mitigate the effects of climate change.
KP proposed the idea of a review to assess stakeholder engagement; J-CD provided oversight and geographical expertise. GIG carried out the review and analysis. All authors contributed to writing the manuscript and providing feedback. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This project is funded by NSF award #1740856 and #2054521 in partnership with the Belmont Forum. It was further supported by the Global Sustainability Scholar (GSS) Scheme via a Fellowship for author Gabriel Gadsden. This Fellowship was funded by the Belmont Forum.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.
We thank Kirsten Rowell, and Maria Fernanda at the Global Sustainability Scholars Program for logistical support in enabling the Fellowship that made this review possible. We sincerely thank colleagues at HIFMB for their encouragement and for sharing feedback and ideas. We are indebted to the editor and especially the external reviewer who gave generously of their time and expertise, enabling us to develop our paper more robustly.
- ^ This is the MARISCO project (Marine Research and Innovation for a Sustainable Management of Coasts and Oceans) combining partners in Germany at the Helmholtz Institute for Functional Marine Biodiversity at the University of Oldenburg; South Africa, at the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research (CMR) at the Nelson Mandela University; and the United States of America, at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Information is available here: https://www.marisco-project.de/.
- ^ University of Michigan Library is the eighth largest academic library in North America with 20 libraries and 11 million volumes. This provided a greater number of returns offering a more comprehensive review.
- ^ PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) is a minimum set of items to aid authors aid reviews and meta-analyses.
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Keywords: biodiversity, review, stakeholder, Wadden Sea, UNESCO
Citation: Gadsden GI, Peters K and Dajka J-C (2022) Academic Engagement with Wadden Sea Stakeholders: A Review of Past Foci and Possible Futures. Front. Mar. Sci. 9:816609. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2022.816609
Received: 16 November 2021; Accepted: 11 April 2022;
Published: 06 May 2022.
Edited by:Rob Harcourt, Macquarie University, Australia
Reviewed by:Cormac Walsh, Leuphana University, Germany
Copyright © 2022 Gadsden, Peters and Dajka. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Jan-Claas Dajka, email@example.com