Coastal commons as social-ecological systems

Authored by: Achim Schlüter , Stefan Partelow , Luz Elba Torres-Guevara , Tim C. Jennerjahn

Routledge Handbook of the Study of the Commons

Print publication date:  January  2019
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138060906
eBook ISBN: 9781315162782
Adobe ISBN:


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The coast is the interface between the land and the sea. It is characterized by a huge diversity of social-ecological systems (SES) and the interdependent interactions and outcomes between social and ecological subsystems (Ostrom, 2009). Many resources at the land-sea interface and property rights of those resources have characteristics of a commons, in the sense of being shared among many actors, ranging from a handful of fishers to the global community. A difference in the governance systems regulating the land and the sea is that the former have much more nuanced and diversified governance, where many aspects are institutionalized. Many more resources are becoming regulated by private property regimes on the continuum between open access and private property (Bromley, 1991; Schlager and Ostrom, 1992) or even anti-commons property (Schlüter, 2008), despite the fact that many ecosystem services produced by those resources are common, due to their characteristic of excludability (Woelfle-Erskine, 2017). This means that a lot of vested interests, particularly in relation to financial gains and livelihoods, are well established. Due to difficulties in accessibility, still relatively low scarcity, technological abilities and other factors, the number of institutions regulating the marine space have been lower in comparison to terrestrial commons so far. However, all of these factors are changing at an impressive speed.

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