SOCIB / SIAS Division

Division of Strategic Issues and Applications for Society

Sustainability Science and Integrated Coastal and Marine Management (ICMM)


The sustainable management of coastal and marine ecosystems is a significant international challenge, which is becoming increasingly urgent with the prevalence of global change. There is no panacea for solving sustainability problems, rather, there is a need for scientific research aimed at developing innovative, adaptive approaches to understanding and managing social-ecological systems with variable, complex, and multi-dimensional attributes. New scientific approaches such as sustainability science have emerged in order to address this need and are more interdisciplinary, participative, and problem orientated than before. At the policy level, frameworks such as Integrated Coastal Zone Management and Marine Spatial Planning (within our group we refer to these collectively as Integrated Coastal and Marine Management) have been proposed as ways to link scientific assessment, monitoring, and prediction with environmental decision-making.

Integrated Coastal and Marine Management (ICMM) can be an effective process for advancing towards sustainability, promoting conservation and preservation of ecosystems, equitable use of coastal and marine resources (natural, socioeconomic, and cultural), and integration among uses, sectors, and administrative zones. Coastal and marine zones in the Mediterranean, especially islands, which are particularly vulnerable, continue to show evidence of negative environmental impacts, with governments and civil society expressing the need to address sustainability challenges with increasing urgency. This need is also reflected in an increase in scientific research related to ICMM. However, concurrent with many places around the globe, the effective integration of science into decision-making and policy development (i.e. science-policy gap) has, in many cases, resulted in the fact that many of these efforts have been largely ineffective in supporting the implementation of ICMM. We believe that in order to achieve success in ICMM, there is a need for research and innovation which is truly relevant and applicable to management and decision-making and adaptable to different social-ecological scenarios. This type of research is interdisciplinary, focused on the development of tools and methodologies, defined by the problems it addresses, and requires collaboration with civil society.

In this context, the mission of this research group is to advance sustainability science to support the implementation of ICMM through conducting research at local, regional, and international scales. We aim to increase knowledge and understanding of human-environment interactions in coastal and marine zones and provide practical solutions to solving sustainability problems.

Specific research objectives, which will evolve with new scientific developments and societal challenges, are: 

  • To develop and evaluate science-based decision-making tools and methods to support ICMM and related frameworks, with particular emphasis on the integration of social and ecological dimensions,
  • to identify and implement indicators to assess, monitor, and predict limits to growth and critical thresholds,
  • to integrate research with environmental governance and management systems and to transfer science to society. 

Photos taken by Enrique Vidal.