Friday, October 14, 2011

Can you give up “your” piece of the sea?

It is probably true that each of us thinks that it is our right to use the sea to swim, to sail or simply to look at - depending on one’s affinities. These activities for the most part do not cause a great harm to the marine environment (unless your boat is leaking oil, for example) and so long as one is not trying to sail through a group of swimmers, there is very little opportunities for different users to get into conflict. Imagine, however if each of us was much, much bigger and I wanted to swim in a bay in which you wanted to swim in, but both of us could not fit in and there was no alternative bay for one of us to go to anywhere in the vicinity. What would happen between us?

At a large marine ecosystem scale, “Rival countries have squabbled ove
r territory in the South China Sea for centuries - but a recent upsurge in tension has sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with global consequences.” (BBC)

More locally, a proposed development of the Tiree Array, a large offshore win
dfarm being planned off the Isle of Tiree (West Coast of Scotland), has produced quite a commotion as posts on both the No Tiree Array (NTA) and the Tiree Community Development Trust (Tiree Trust) websites show. The No Tiree Array campaign has started in November 2010 to “resist the proposed construction of the Tiree (Argyll) Array, or any ancillary development, within 35km of Tiree’s coastline”. The Tiree Trust, which is owned and managed by the Tiree community was formed in March 2006 to promote “the sustainable, environmental, economic and social development of Tiree”.

As a mediator, I propose that all users of the marine environment, no matter how big or small, in conflict or not, consider:
  • What are my needs when using the sea? How do they, if at all, shape my position in potential conflict?
  • What may other marine users’ needs be?
  • What small changes in my behaviour could I make that would still satisfy my needs but possibly allow other users’ needs to be satisfied as well?

Sceptical? Thinking why would they use it and not me? Consider the above example of you and me and one bay that is too small. What both of us may need is to cool down from the mid-day sun, but we may be too stubborn or too proud or both to find out about each other’s needs and to think of a solution together. But if we were not too stubborn or too proud, could we simply take turns to swim in the bay?

I am not suggesting that the South China Sea or the Tiree Array situations are as simple as this, but I am proposing that we look beyond our entrenched positions and try to identify our own needs, other people’s needs, and work on achieving a needs-based solution rather than a position-fuelled conflict. It would be a start and would take us a long way towards achieving sustainable seas.

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