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journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/marpol
An appeal for a code of conduct for marine conservation
Nathan J. Bennett
, Lydia Teh
, Yoshitaka Ota
, Patrick Christie
, Adam Ayers
, Jon C. Day
, David Gill
, Rebecca L. Gruby
, John N. Kittinger
, J. Zachary Koehn
, John Parks
, Marjo Vierros
, Tara S. Whitty
, Aulani Wilhelm
, Kim Wright
Jaime A. Aburto
, Elena M. Finkbeiner
, Carlos F. Gaymer
, Hugh Govan
, Noella Gray
Rebecca M. Jarvis
, Maery Kaplan-Hallam
, Terre Satterﬁeld
Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Canada
School of Marine and Environmental Aﬀairs, University of Washington, USA
Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University, USA
Nereus Program and Institute for Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Canada
Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, USA
Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (JIMAR), NOAA Paciﬁc Islands Fisheries Science Center, USA
ARC Centre for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Australia
International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London, UK
Luc Hoﬀmann Institute, World Wildlife Fund International, Switzerland & National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC), University of Maryland, USA
Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, Colorado State University, USA
Center for Oceans, Conservation International, USA
School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, USA
Marine Management Solutions, USA
Coastal Policy and Humanities Research, Canada
Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego, USA
Coastal, Marine and Island Environments Program, Indigenous and Community Conserved Areas (ICCA) Consortium, Canada
Millennium Nucleus for Ecology and Sustainable Management of Oceanic Islands (ESMOI), Universidad Católica del Norte, Chile
Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, USA
Locally-Managed Marine Area Network, Fiji
Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Canada
Institute for Applied Ecology New Zealand, School of Science, Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand
Sydney Institute of Marine Science, Australia
Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University, USA
School of Government, Development & International Aﬀairs (SGDIA), University of the South Paciﬁc (USP), Fiji
Code of conduct
Conservation social science
Marine conservation actions are promoted to conserve natural values and support human wellbeing. Yet the
quality of governance processes and the social consequences of some marine conservation initiatives have been
the subject of critique and even human rights complaints. These types of governance and social issues may
jeopardize the legitimacy of, support for and long-term eﬀectiveness of marine conservation. Thus, we argue that
a clearly articulated and comprehensive set of social standards - a code of conduct - is needed to guide marine
conservation. In this paper, we draw on the results of an expert meeting and scoping review to present key
principles that might be taken into account in a code of conduct, to propose a draft set of foundational elements
for inclusion in a code of conduct, to discuss the beneﬁts and challenges of such a document, and to propose next
steps to develop and facilitate the uptake of a broadly applicable code of conduct within the marine conservation
community. The objectives of developing such a code of conduct are to promote fair conservation governance
and decision-making, socially just conservation actions and outcomes, and accountable conservation practi-
Received 1 February 2017; Received in revised form 27 March 2017; Accepted 27 March 2017
E-mail addresses: email@example.com (N.J. Bennett), firstname.lastname@example.org (L. Teh), email@example.com (Y. Ota), firstname.lastname@example.org (P. Christie),
email@example.com (A. Ayers), firstname.lastname@example.org (J.C. Day), Phil.Franks@iied.org (P. Franks), email@example.com (D. Gill), Rebecca.Gruby@colostate.edu (R.L. Gruby),
firstname.lastname@example.org (J.N. Kittinger), email@example.com (J.Z. Koehn), firstname.lastname@example.org (N. Lewis), email@example.com (J. Parks), firstname.lastname@example.org (M. Vierros),
email@example.com (T.S. Whitty), firstname.lastname@example.org (A. Wilhelm), email@example.com (K. Wright), firstname.lastname@example.org (J.A. Aburto),
email@example.com (E.M. Finkbeiner), firstname.lastname@example.org (C.F. Gaymer), email@example.com (H. Govan), firstname.lastname@example.org (N. Gray), email@example.com (R.M. Jarvis),
firstname.lastname@example.org (M. Kaplan-Hallam), terre.satterﬁeld@ires.ubc.ca (T. Satterﬁeld).
Marine Policy 81 (2017) 411–418
0308-597X/ © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/BY-NC-ND/4.0/).
tioners and organizations. The uptake and implementation of a code of conduct would enable marine
conservation to be both socially acceptable and ecologically eﬀective, thereby contributing to a truly sustainable
1. Marine conservation: In need of a social standard
Action is needed to conserve and manage the marine environment
in order to maintain healthy ecosystems and human wellbeing. This is
particularly true in a world with mounting anthropogenic threats,
including overﬁshing, pollution, coastal population growth, biodiver-
sity loss, habitat destruction and climate change [1–3]. The interna-
tional community has responded by pushing for increased marine
conservation and management. Notable examples include the Conven-
tion on Biological Diversity (Aichi Target 11) and United Nations
Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 14) [4,5]. Both platforms articu-
late targets of 10% protection of marine and coastal areas in marine
protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. In a motion approved at the recent
2016 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is advocating for an even
more ambitious goal of 30% coverage in MPAs (See: https://portals.
iucn.org/congress/motion/053). Some conservation organizations are
even promoting a goal of 50% through the Nature Needs Half move-
ment [6,7]. Indeed, marine conservation targets, supported by regional
initiatives and national eﬀorts, have led to a signiﬁcant increase in the
scope and scale of marine conservation eﬀorts globally . Further,
MPAs are just one tool in a suite of marine conservation and manage-
ment actions –e.g., ﬁsheries management, ecosystem-based manage-
ment, marine spatial planning, nature-based adaptation measures, blue
carbon projects, etc. - that are being promoted and implemented around
the world in response to resource degradation, climate change and
Yet in the push to rapidly increase marine management and
conservation interventions with the aim of reversing downward envir-
onmental trends [8,9], there is a real danger that the marine conserva-
tion community may promote actions that are socially unjust or
inappropriate. Past research has demonstrated unsatisfactory govern-
ance and decision-making processes and unintended negative social
consequences that can occur in the creation of terrestrial protected
areas in a variety of diﬀerent settings [10–12]. Such critical reviews of
conservation practice have documented a lack of consultation, physical
displacement, perpetration of violence, cultural disruption, social
marginalization, loss of livelihoods, and increased poverty. Recently,
the UN Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council recently released a
report on human rights violations related to conservation of terrestrial
While these types of issues have been long recognized in terrestrial
conservation, there is evidence of similar problems occurring in some
marine conservation initiatives. For example, recent accounts have
documented marine conservation initiatives that lack consultation or
consent prior to implementation [14–16], fail to account for the rights
and needs of local people [17–19], physically displace communities
[20,21], produce inequitable social impacts [22–24], disempower local
communities [25,26] and undermine traditional and functioning re-
source management regimes . These issues have led some scholars
and practitioners to question whether some marine conservation
initiatives should be labeled as a form of “ocean grabbing”when
governance processes are poor or when rights and resources are taken
from small-scale ﬁshers, indigenous peoples, and/or coastal commu-
Issues such as these can produce several well-documented chal-
lenges for conservation. First, some actions might be deemed unjust or
unlawful, which might lead to complaints to human rights bodies or
lengthy court battles [13,17]. Actions that contravene fundamental
human rights or ignore indigenous rights in the name of marine
conservation are not only unacceptable, they are also counter-produc-
tive. Second, for conservation funders and NGOs, these critiques also
pose a signiﬁcant risk to the “brand”of organizations and the social
license of conservation [12,30]. This can lead to justiﬁable activism
against individual NGOs or conservation by local communities, indi-
genous groups or small-scale ﬁsheries organizations, or in global
conservation fora [29,31–33]. Third, there is the risk that unacceptable
governance, actions or impacts will produce local opposition, slow
progress towards targets, and, ultimately, undermine the eﬀectiveness
and success of marine conservation [14,23].
We recognize that there are numerous examples of positive marine
conservation initiatives that incorporate participatory planning pro-
cesses [34–37], that have taken into account social and cultural
considerations [38,39], that consider livelihoods and are co-managed
[40–43], that recognize local and indigenous community initiatives to
conserve local resources [25,35,44], and that have produced positive
social outcomes to the beneﬁt of natural resource management eﬀorts
[45–48]. Furthermore, generally speaking, there is good will within the
international community to consider the concerns and needs of people
when designing conservation actions. Marine conservation is often
motivated by both ecological and social concerns . There is also
increasing attention to good governance [50,51] and the human
dimensions of marine conservation [39,42,52,53]. Yet, overall, it is
diﬃcult to determine the extent to which past marine conservation
processes and actions have been inclusive and just in practice. To
improve the quality of governance, the social beneﬁts and the success of
marine conservation eﬀorts, we feel it is justiﬁed and important for
there to be a solid and defensible foundational platform for future
Thus, rather than dwell on past mistakes, we issue a call to action
and propose a way forward to reduce the occurrence of poor govern-
ance and negative impacts in future eﬀorts to achieve marine con-
servation objectives. Speciﬁcally, we argue that there is a well-
recognized gap and need for a code of conduct to guide the actions of
all members of the marine conservation community. This is exempliﬁed
by the increasing number of individuals and organizations –including
local communities, practitioners, academics and NGOs - that are calling
for a foundational set of guiding principles or social standards to guide
conservation practitioners [28,54–56]. Notably, one outcome of a
recent global Think Tank on the Human Dimensions of Large Scale
Marine Protected Areas –attended by more than 125 scholars,
practitioners, funders and managers from around the world - was a
call by a group of those present for the development of such a code of
conduct for marine conservation [57,58]. Many other professions,
including doctors, lawyers, engineers, accountants and teachers, have
codes of conduct to establish a ﬁrm foundation for practice. However,
there is no similar social standard or mechanism to guide the actions of
individual conservation practitioners, organizations or governments or
to hold them accountable. A Hippocratic Oath is needed for conserva-
2. Towards a code of conduct for marine conservation
Recognizing this gap and the perceived need for such a social
standard, several of this paper's authors initiated a research project and
collaborative process to explore and develop these ideas further. This
included conducting a scoping review and convening an expert meet-
ing. First, the three lead authors on this paper conducted a preliminary
review of the literature and prepared an initial summative list of the
principles that we found for further discussion at the expert meeting.
N.J. Bennett et al. Marine Policy 81 (2017) 411–418
Review of key principles, guiding questions and reference documents for a code of conduct for conservation.
Governance and Decision-Making Principles
Principles Guiding Questions Relevant Policies and Guidelines
Recognition Are the presence and rights of local groups, including minorities, marginalized groups,
traditional resource users and indigenous groups, duly acknowledged in conservation plans
and policies? Are pre-existing national and local laws, governance arrangements and
management processes recognized?
Participation Are there clear processes for identifying and engaging all stakeholders (with diﬀerentiation of
rights holders) in decision-making and action-taking?
Inclusivity Are there governance structures that include and equitably represent all implicated
stakeholders, rights-holders and relevant groups in decision-making processes?
Voice Are there processes to ensure the perspectives and diﬀerent worldviews of all relevant
stakeholders, rights-holders and relevant groups are taken into account, and equitably
represented throughout the process?
Due process Are the legal obligations, customary rules, and informal regulations adequately respected and
followed to ensure the legitimacy of the process?
Self-determination Are sovereignty and autonomy issues recognized? Are steps taken to ensure recognized
authorities and constituents have control over decision-making processes and outcomes? Are
nationally and democratically deﬁned social and environmental priorities understood and
Free, prior, and
Are steps taken to inform communities and stakeholders of the short and long-term costs and
beneﬁts associated with conservation interventions and policies? Are there mutually agreed
terms for conservation processes? Is consent obtained through an informed, fair and legal
process? Has consent (written or verbal) been properly documented?
Capacity Is support provided to ensure constituents and communities possess the capacity (skills,
knowledge, time, resources) to fully participate in all stages of participatory planning,
decision-making and action-taking? Are adequate resources provided to enable all parties to
carry out their agreed upon roles and management responsibilities after implementation?
Social Justice Principles
Principles Guiding Questions Relevant Policies and Guidelines
Human rights Are measures in place to protect human rights, dignity, and freedoms of all groups? Are there
processes to respond to complaints about violations?
Tenure Are pre-existing and customary claims to access, use and harvest marine areas resources
recognized, respected and incorporated into planning?
Indigenous rights Are indigenous rights recognized and respected? Are indigenous rights and values not
infringed upon? Do conservation processes strengthen cooperation around resolving issues
faced by indigenous peoples?
Intellectual property Are proprietary information and traditional knowledge systems safeguarded for the integrity
of knowledge holders? Are policies in place to ensure that communities are fairly credited for
their knowledge and contribution to scientiﬁc research, that researchers return to share and
discuss knowledge and research products with communities and that ownership of data and
research products are clariﬁed?
Cultural diversity and
Are cultural practices, artifacts, places, values and activities –both historical and present –
incorporated into conservation planning and management?
Social well-being Are programs in place to maintain or improve the quality of life and standard of living of local
people? Are social well-being considerations being monitored?
Food and livelihood
Are measures in place to ensure that food and livelihood security are not compromised by the
conservation intervention? Are mechanisms in place to ensure access to income and resources
are adequate to meet basic needs?
Equitable distribution Are actions taken to ensure present and future costs and beneﬁts of conservation are
distributed among stakeholders and rights holders, so that outcomes are considered to be
acceptable by all parties?
Access and beneﬁt
Are access and beneﬁt sharing agreements in place to ensure that access and beneﬁts are
equitably distributed and ﬂow to those who will be impacted?
Are adequate management actions being taken to ensure marine ecosystems remain healthy
so as to generate the goods and services required by resource dependent communities?
Principles Guiding Questions Relevant Policies and Guidelines
Learning Are there iterative processes and an organizational culture to enable learning about social
considerations and performance, including both successes and failures, and to ensure past
mistakes are not repeated in future conservation policies and initiatives? Are there adequate
spaces and processes to support reﬂection and deliberation?
Adaptive management Are social impact monitoring and evaluation protocols being used and results communicated?
Are conservation initiatives being adaptively managed based on monitoring and evaluation of
Transparency Is open communication encouraged and eﬀective in avoiding mis-reporting or concealment of
information, costs and beneﬁts? Are active steps being taken to communicate about how
decisions are made, the rationale for decisions, and the results of conservation actions? Is
information provided in an accessible, understandable, useful and timely manner?
Accountability Is there an independent process (e.g., third party audits) to evaluate and verify conservation
performance? Is there a mechanism to ensure that parties are held responsible (e.g.,
sanctions) for their actions and transgressions?
Conﬂict resolution Are eﬃcient and accessible conﬂict and dispute resolution mechanisms available to negotiate
and resolve emerging and outstanding issues?
Remediation or redress
Have processes been set up to seek remedial action (e.g., compensation or structural
readjustment) for past infringements of rights or to ﬁnd solutions to emerging issues?
N.J. Bennett et al. Marine Policy 81 (2017) 411–418
Second, we convened meeting of experts as a side event at the IUCN
2016 World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, Hawaii to discuss
acceptable and unacceptable processes and practices in the context of
marine conservation. Our overall sample (n =18) for the meeting was
opportunistic. We identiﬁed and invited scholars (n =12) and practi-
tioners (n =6) involved in marine conservation and management who
were already going to be present at the IUCN congress. During the
meeting, which was facilitated by the lead author of this paper, we
clariﬁed the rationale for a code of conduct and the parties to whom the
code would apply, brainstormed other relevant codes and international
policy documents, discussed the aims and principles that might be
included in a code of conduct, examined the potential beneﬁts and
challenges of a code of conduct, and explored next steps in the
development and promotion of a code of conduct within the marine
conservation community. Notes were taken during the workshop and
later analyzed for key themes by the lead author of this paper. Third, to
arrive at a summative list of principles, we conducted an inductive
review of conservation policies and standards, foundational interna-
tional policy documents from organizations such as the FAO, the United
Nations, the CBD and the IUCN, and peer-reviewed literature as
identiﬁed by the authors and workshop participants. This paper
presents the results from both the expert meeting and scoping review.
2.1. Key principles and objectives
In convening this discussion, we recognized that there already exists
a diverse set of codes of conduct or similar documents related to
conservation that have emerged from diﬀerent international policy
contexts [59,60,61], that pertain to diﬀerent scales from local to global
[62,63] and that deal with speciﬁc concerns such as rights or culture
[55,64]. However, a broadly applicable guidance document that
identiﬁes key responsibilities and accountabilities does not exist for
marine conservation. Such a document would need to be relevant to the
diverse parties engaged in marine conservation –including researchers,
governments, NGOs, private sector and local organizations –and to
diﬀerent types and scales of initiatives. It would need to consider
distinct societal perceptions of and aspirations for the ocean, unique
access regimes and ways that people interact with the ocean in various
contexts, the trans-boundary nature of many marine resources, and the
shared legacy and common responsibility associated with areas beyond
national jurisdiction. The guiding responsibilities and accountabilities
identiﬁed in the document would also need to apply to diﬀerent
processes associated with marine conservation (e.g., research, policy
development, decision-making, management, public outreach/engage-
ment), including at diﬀerent stages within the process (e.g., prior to
entry, during entry, in the planning phase, during implementation, in
ongoing management and in monitoring and adaptation).
It was agreed that a primary focus of such a code of conduct is the
key principles that should guide marine conservation actions. Key
considerations that emerged from this policy and literature review
ranged from fundamental concerns such as protection of basic human
rights [65,66] to more aspirational goals related to equity in the
distribution of costs and beneﬁts [4,60]. Drawing on the results of
the expert meeting and the scoping review, we present a comprehensive
list of the key principles that both experts and policy documents
suggested ought to guide conservation. We present these principles
along with a set of guiding questions and supporting references to key
policy and guidance documents (Table 1). Most of the principles are
well-recognized and developed concepts in international conventions
and agreements, that many countries are signatory to, as well as in
conservation policy documents (Appendix A).
Based on this review of principles and our discussions at the expert
meeting at the World Conservation Congress, we also propose a draft
set of objectives and recommendations that should be considered in the
development of a marine conservation code of conduct (Box 1). Our
draft proposal for a code of conduct includes three broad objectives –
–Draft proposal of objectives and recommendations for a code of conduct for marine conservation, which will need to be reviewed, tested and
reﬁned by a broader group of stakeholders and practitioners.
Towards a Code of Conduct for Marine Conservation.
(Draft Objectives and Recommendations for Further Discussion and Development).
I. Fair conservation governance and decision-making processes
•Ensure recognition of and respect for the presence and rights of local communities, indigenous people, traditional users and marginalized
•Facilitate decisions through participatory processes, which are inclusive of stakeholders and rights-holders and give equal voice –
irrespective of gender, ethnicity, ability, age, language, religion, socioeconomic status or nationality.
•Follow due process and respect the right of self-determination for sovereign nations and autonomous groups.
•Document free, prior and informed consent.
•Ensure availability of adequate resources and capacity to support collaboration during planning stages and in eﬀective management.
II. Socially-just conservation actions and outcomes
•Protect inherent and fundamental human rights, dignity and freedoms.
•Recognize and respect local tenure and indigenous rights to resources, traditional and cultural practices, including aﬃrming existing areas
and territories conserved and sustainably used by indigenous peoples and local communities.
•Protect intellectual property and cultural diversity and heritage.
•Consider the needs and aspirations of stakeholders and rights holders to maintain and make eﬀorts to increase social wellbeing.
•Maintain food and livelihood security for local people and communities.
•Promote equitable distribution of beneﬁts and costs, including fair access and beneﬁt sharing agreements.
•Ensure that actions taken increase environmental sustainability and the provisioning of ecosystem goods and services.
III. Accountable conservation initiatives and organizations.
•Employ a process of planning, iterative learning and adaptive management based on social considerations, including incorporating lessons
from past mistakes in future initiatives.
•Commit to adhering to these principles and adopt a policy of transparency and accountability that includes a system of downward
accountability, independent auditing and graduated sanctions for transgressions.
•Enable access to fair mechanisms for conﬂict resolution and remediation or redress where needed.
N.J. Bennett et al. Marine Policy 81 (2017) 411–418
fair governance and decision-making, socially just actions and out-
comes, and accountable organizations and initiatives. These three
central objectives are supported by a set of recommendation statements
that contain the principles (underlined terms) from the scoping review.
We emphasize that this draft set of objectives, recommendations and
principles should be further tested and reﬁned by a community of
practice through time.
2.2. The beneﬁts and challenges of a code of conduct
We propose three primary beneﬁts or applications for this set of
objectives and guiding principles. First, as an educational or capacity
building tool, the code can familiarize emerging conservation profes-
sionals with the issues and inspire the next generation of conserva-
tionists to engage with conservation in ways that are appropriate and
mindful of diﬀering social, cultural, economic and institutional contexts
to facilitate more eﬀective outcomes. Second, as a guidance document,
the code would serve as a reference or set of guidelines for conservation
organizations in order to promote more just and equitable conservation
policies and practice. This would enable early and proactive engage-
ment with appropriate actions rather than waiting and reacting when
conﬂict arises. It might also serve as a reference for developing more
context, project or organization speciﬁc codes of conduct. Finally, as an
accountability mechanism, the code might form the basis of a set of
measurable performance indicators that could be used to hold members
(i.e., donors, NGOs, governments, researchers, individual practitioners)
of the marine conservation community accountable for their actions.
On this last point, we emphasize that there is currently a lack of reliable
accountability mechanisms in conservation –in particular, for interna-
tional conservation funders and NGOs who may lack suﬃcient over-
sight [56,118]. Clear accountability is necessary to ensure legitimacy
and social license. In short, the code of conduct might function as either
“a carrot”(an incentive mechanism to encourage and reward good
performance) or “a stick”(an enforcement mechanism to deter bad
performance) depending on how it is operationalized. For example,
communities might use a code of conduct as a reference either to
proactively inspire appropriate conservation or reactively to hold
conservation agencies and organizations accountable who are working
in their area.
While there are clear beneﬁts, we also recognize that there are some
potential challenges. A code of conduct runs the risk of becoming a
simple checklist that enables a “lowest common denominator”eﬀect,
whereby individuals or organizations only complete the minimum
requirements. There is also the risk that conservation professionals will
only abide by the outlined principles in the short term, instead of the
sustained and continuous engagement that is required to build im-
proved relations and increase the likelihood of conservation success.
Finally, while a high-level code can provide generic guidance, con-
servation professionals will likely need to test and validate or reconﬁ-
gure these principles in diﬀerent locales and sites. A result could be
negotiation of local or regional codes that are mutually agreed with
those implicated. Cognizant of these challenges, we emphasize that
adapting these principles and ongoing monitoring is needed to ensure
such a code of conduct is developed and applied in a way that is both
legitimate and eﬀective for diﬀerent socio-political contexts.
2.3. The way forward: Developing, promoting and implementing a code of
The initial workshop on the code of conduct and this scoping paper
are the ﬁrst steps in what we hope will be a longer process of
developing, promoting and implementing a broadly applicable code
of conduct for marine conservation. While we present a review of
principles in Table 1 and a draft set of objectives and recommendations
in Box 1, the development of a legitimate and recognized code of
conduct will require a longer process of engagement, development, and
negotiation with a broader constituency and more diverse group of
stakeholders at diﬀerent scales. An essential next step is to develop an
understanding of what enables a code to be eﬀective in application –for
example, through reviewing and evaluating the impacts of past
processes and codes to determine what has worked or has not worked
to foster change in conservation practice or encourage accountability.
A number of diﬀerent groups should be engaged throughout the
process of developing, promoting and implementing a code of conduct.
These groups include international conservation and intergovernmental
bodies (e.g., the International Union for the Conservation of Nature,
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Food and
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), bi-and multi-lateral
conservation initiatives, governments and agencies, conservation fun-
ders and NGOs, civil society and community-based organizations, and
academics. Capacity, ﬁnancing, and skilled group facilitation will be
needed for these parties to meaningfully participate and contribute.
Ultimately, the success of such an initiative will rely on central
individuals and organizations that are willing to champion and support
the cause. Conservation policy focused meetings that would provide an
opportunity to move the discussion and initiative forward include,
among others, the upcoming United Nations Conference to Support the
Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 (New York, June
2017), IUCN International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC4,
Chile, September 2017), and future Conferences of the Parties to the
Convention on Biological Diversity.
Once developed, further action would be required to present the
code in diﬀerent formats to inspire actions –such as educational
manuals for practitioners, or clear practical guidelines for conservation
organizations who want to implement the code or adapt it to diﬀerent
contexts. Guidance documents should be developed that articulate clear
indicators, metrics and monitoring mechanisms to help organizations
identify the level to which diﬀerent considerations have been imple-
mented, clearly diﬀerentiating between unacceptable actions, minimal
standards and aspirational higher standards, and to provide guidance
on how to achieve standards.
This leads to the challenging question of whether such a code of
conduct should be a voluntary mechanism, which would leave over-
sight to communities, governments, civil society organizations or
academics, or whether the conservation community needs independent
external auditing. Conservation organizations may need systems of
incentives for uptake and rewards for level of implementation –for
example, this might take the form of a certiﬁcation scheme in a similar
manner to corporate social responsibility programs or the IUCN Green
List . Conversely, sanctions for transgressions or lack of eﬀort may
be needed - e.g., published rebukes, prerequisite corrective actions for
future funding disbursements, etc. To hold the conservation community
accountable, institutions and tangible processes may need to be set up -
including methods for monitoring and evaluation, ﬁnancing and
capacity for auditing, an independent body to oversee the process
and mechanisms to communicate shortcomings and ensure improve-
ments are made. Indeed, many unresolved questions remain and
numerous operational issues would need to continue to be explored
and resolved in future discussions in support of the development of a
code of conduct. These questions include, for example: How would
practitioners claiming to uphold and abide by the code of conduct be
independently evaluated and ‘veriﬁed’? What, if any, sanctions could be
levied against proven transgressors of the code? Should funders of
conservation require NGOs to submit independent social audits? Who
will hold independent foundations to account? How might the proposed
objectives, recommendations and principles of the code of conduct be
tested and evaluated under diverse ﬁeld conditions in order to improve
accuracy, legitimacy and applicability? Monitoring lessons learned
from implementing early drafts of the code of conduct will also help
to answer these questions.
N.J. Bennett et al. Marine Policy 81 (2017) 411–418
3. An appeal for action
The development and implementation of a code of conduct for
marine conservation is warranted, urgent and past due. In the 21st
century ocean, narratives and realities of scarcity, resource degradation
and climate change may be increasingly used to justify actions that
might not have been deemed socially acceptable under previously
“normal”circumstances . When done for the sake of marine
conservation, unacceptable or unlawful actions may undermine legiti-
macy and support and jeopardize the long-term success and eﬀective-
ness of conservation eﬀorts. Given continuing change and uncertainty,
ecological rationales alone will not be enough to guide conservation
actions. Proactive attention to social considerations will pay dividends
and help to avoid costly mistakes for conservation . Both social and
natural sciences will play vital and complementary roles in supporting
the dual priorities of socially responsible and ecologically eﬀective
conservation policies and practice.
Finally, we put forward these ideas and discussion with some
humility, cognizant of the limited representation, and thus experiences
and perspectives, of those present at the workshop and the authorship
team. Yet, there was signiﬁcant collective knowledge and experience in
our group and the principles presented in this paper are well grounded
in foundational policy documents and have emerged as lessons learned
from numerous past conservation initiatives. As a result we recommend
that conservation organizations and practitioners proceed with proac-
tive consideration and application of the foundational elements of a
code of conduct that we present here now to diﬀerent contexts - until
such time as a formalized process of development and review has been
completed by a relevant international body and through an inclusive
process. We also emphasize the importance of educating conservation
professionals and organizations about best practices.
In closure, we re-issue the appeal for the development of a
comprehensive and broadly accepted code of conduct to facilitate
marine conservation processes and actions that are fair, just and
accountable, while supporting the achievement of ecological eﬀective-
ness. This will help to achieve a truly sustainable approach to ocean
This project was completed in collaboration with the Nippon
Foundation-Nereus Program (http://www.nereusprogram.org). We also
acknowledge the support of the Social Science and Humanities
Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada. The lead author acknowledges
additional support from the Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellowship Program
(http://liberero.ca), the Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship Program and
aﬃliations with the OceanCanada Partnership (http://oceancanada.
org), the Too Big To Ignore Global Partnership for Small-Scale Fisheries
Research (http://toobigtoignore.net) and the Community Conservation
Research Network (http://www.communityconservation.net).
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