Incorporating stakeholder perceptions and exploring management scenarios in the Baltic Health Index.

Supervisors: Thorsten Blenckner (Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University)
Oceans provide a suite of important ecosystem services that are absolutely essential to the functioning of human society. As interactions within marine social-ecological systems are immensely complex, it is vital for assessment systems to take a holistic approach in determining the health status of oceans. The Ocean Health Index (OHI) is one such framework that can be adapted to comprehensively and quantitatively measure these ocean-derived benefits (called “goals”) as key indicators of ocean health at different spatial scales. In the Baltic Sea, a regional OHI assessment called the Baltic Health Index (BHI) has been successfully used to assess ocean health. However, stakeholder perceptions of the relative importance of goals and how they factor into the BHI remains unclear. Additionally, little has been done to explore ways the BHI can be applied to advise the implementation of regional management policy. The current study attempts to address both these questions by: 1) conducting a survey of stakeholders in the Baltic Sea using the best-worst scaling approach to obtain an appropriate weighting scheme as well as to analyse possible demographic effects and, 2) designing and applying hypothetical management scenarios to the BHI as a means to analyse how the index and hence ocean health status may respond. Survey results show that Biodiversity and Clean Water were considered the most important issues by Baltic Sea stakeholders, and that age, country of employment as well as job type all have significant interactions with how stakeholder perceive goal importance. However, there is unlikely to be a regional consensus on goal priorities, as evidence suggests divergent opinions on goal priorities spatially. Hypothetical management scenarios highlight strong inter-goal connectivity and substantial spatial differences at the sub-basin level in the response of index scores, suggesting a need to re-evaluate methods of implementation for current regional policies. This study hence, provides an initial look at the perceptions of Baltic Sea stakeholders towards goal priorities and lays the groundwork for adapting the BHI as a management tool beyond simple assessment of current health status.