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Introducing PATHGRASS: Exploring human-nature connectedness and cultural ecosystem services in coastal seagrass ecosystems.

Coastal systems face many pressures from human activities and climate change, which affects their functioning, the ecosystem services they can provide and especially their contributions to people. These contributions are often recognised better in terrestrial ecosystems than they are in marine systems, and research progress in this area has been slow, especially regarding cultural services. In order to address this significant gap in research, the Euromarine Network developed the PATHGRASS workshop, with leading scientists Dr. Antonio Castro of the University of Almeria, Spain, and Dr. Irene Olivé of the Stazione Zoologica Anton Doorhn, Italy.

Image Credits: I. Olivé.

Seagrasses and submerged vegetated habitats have been found to play important roles for ecological functioning and provisioning of ecosystem services to society, especially in the Mediterranean Sea. Seagrasses can act as ecological quality indicators in marine systems but face increasing pressures from climate change and human actions, and a global decrease in their health and survival. They have been determined as a priority habitat due to their importance, but conflicting business and governance interests, and a lack of societal knowledge on the services seagrasses can provide, have presented challenges for the management of these marine systems.

Therefore, PATHGRASS was created, a funded workshop on ‘The pathways for connecting people and seagrasses’. Research thus far has rarely touched upon the cultural services from seagrasses, which are needed to create an integrated ecosystem assessment that includes more social-ecological aspects. PATHGRASS set out to explore the contributions of seagrasses to human wellbeing and their indirect cultural connections, and to work toward closing the disconnection gap between ecosystem benefits and their perception by the broader society.

Therefore, the leading scientists aim to produce a workshop that incorporates the role of different intrinsic, instrumental, and relational values that people associate with coastal ecosystems systems. The project will be used to investigate the different contexts and perceptions through interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral viewpoints, for example through Ives et al. (2017) five dimensions of individual and societal human-nature connection: material, experiential, cognitive, emotional, and philosophical. The leverage points perspective will also be operationalised to explore the depth of these human-nature connections, and whether they could provide pathways to conserving seagrass habitats more effectively.

The PATHGRASS workshop is a way to communicate and develop tools to conduct this research and collect data, and then share this with wider networks of scientists, private sectors, NGOs and governing systems. The interdisciplinary research group identifies tools and methods to investigate human-nature connectedness in seagrass habitats and see the different values emerging from seagrass habitats which may aid in a sustainable transition.

The workshop’s objectives are to advance the understanding of values and leverage points regarding human-nature connectedness and seagrass, and identify a framework and tool-box for assessing seagrass meadows and socio-ecological values. Thereafter the workshop will function as a communication network for interdisciplinary research communities, in order to co-develop models that can be used to manage and govern marine systems.

Dr. Castro and Dr. Olivé expect that the workshop will ignite a shift from the current state to a more holistic and varied perspective of seagrass socio-ecological systems and their functioning. PATHGRASS will create a forum for scientific discourse and with the common aim to sustainably manage seagrass ecosystems in the Mediterranean and improve human well-being and societal benefits. It will also work towards filling the current knowledge gaps in marine and coastal social-ecological systems research, along with human-nature connectedness literature. In the future, this could help to support Blue Growth initiatives and preserve coastal communities that rely on seagrasses and their cultural and ecosystem services.

Read more about the Euromarine Network and PATHGRASS workshop here, and keep an eye out for more information on the workshop in October 2022!


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