Reconciling competing interests is a key challenge for environmental governance, especially in marine ecosystems, which are facing a combination of environmental pressures and high levels of human dependence. At the same time, there is increasing interest in oceans as a source of economic growth. Marine ecosystems are often characterised by legal plurality, which adds another challenge for effective governance. Marine ecosystems governance is therefore complex, and it has been proposed that interactive governance that aligns the values and principles of different governance actors is needed to address multiple interlinked, but sometimes also competing, goals and interests. Contemporary governance approaches increasingly emphasise the interlinked interests of humans and nature, as demonstrated the concept of ecosystem services and the recently emerged blue economy. Ecosystem services are defined as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems” (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005 p. v). The blue economy has various definitions, that commonly emphasise “improvement of human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities” (The Commonwealth 2020 p. 1)
Ecosystem services and the blue economy are thought to together offer potential for the alignment of different interests through their emphasis on multiple and interlinked goals for environmental governance. Whilst the blue economy informs wider policy discourse, ecosystem services can be seen as the materialisation of this discourse through capturing preferences and values on the ground. However, aiming for the simultaneous optimisation of different dimensions does not guarantee alignment of values, worldviews and images within or among elements of governance, and across scale. The question remains whether these increasingly dominant approaches to marine environmental governance succeed in demonstrating the importance of biodiversity whilst integrating diverse social, economic, and environmental interests. The ecosystem services concept tends to be directed at the system to be governed (e.g. ecosystems and resource users), whereas the blue economy concept is directed at the governing system (i.e. national governments and decision makers), and although they are related, it is not clear to what extent they are capable of connecting these different scales.
In this thesis, I set out to develop a better understanding of the extent to which the evolving landscape of marine environmental governance contributes to aligning the values, worldviews and images of the governing system with those of the system-to-be-governed.