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Q&A: Jakob Granit on the Source to Sea Action Platform and its links to the SDGs

Water knows no boundaries, yet its use is managed in separate silos with little or no tradition of cooperation. But steadily increasing competition over water resources will require cooperation and a more systematic approach to present and future development challenges. One effort to build these bridges is the source to sea concept: combining management of fresh water, salt water and land use with knowledge sharing.

Anna Löfdahl / Published on 9 October 2015

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The Action Platform on Source to Sea Management was established at the 2014 World Water Week by research organizations and policy-makers from the freshwater, coastal and marine communities. The platform aims to support coordinated governance and management of flows connecting ecosystems from source to sea.

A follow up event at this year´s World Water Week discussed how the international community can apply the concept in practice. In particular, how the connection between land, river and sea can help to implement the Sustainable Development Goals. SEI Stockholm Centre Director and SEI Deputy Director Jakob Granit explains how the source to sea concept can contribute to meet the SDGs.

Q: What is new about this platform?
JG: The links between land, rivers, coasts and seas are well known, but poorly addressed. This is the first international attempt to connect institutions and colleagues working in separate silos along the continuum from source to sea. The platform will mean that we can share knowledge and operational experiences of what works (or not) from up-stream to down-stream.

The platform’s scientific research will find out how water, pollution, sediments and economic flows are connected from source to sea. The platform’s network, drawing on experts from all over the world, will explore urbanization, economic development, consumption patterns and climate change impacting the source to sea continuum. Together the platform members can provide advisory services on all aspects of these dynamic and linked systems.

Current members of the Source to Sea Action Platform include:


Q: What are the main challenges – as you see it – for connecting professionals working in the fresh-water community with professionals working in the salt-water community?
JG: Typically these two have worked in isolation; they speak different languages and have no experience of sharing knowledge. But water related ecosystems from source to sea are under severe pressure from economic development. Marine and coastal resources represent enormous assets, and fast increasing investments in the blue economy (e.g. aquaculture, coastal tourism, marine biotechnology, ocean energy, seabed mining) give insight that it is critical to speak across silos and learn from all sides.

Q: The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in September and issues related to source-to-sea management span across several goals. How would you like the concept to be taken into account?
JG: The SDGs are a good illustration of how issues along the continuum from source to sea are tackled – essentially in silos. However we now have a good opportunity to illustrate how the different SDGs connect with the source to sea concept. The concept links up with several overarching goals: #1 End poverty; #13 Combat climate change; #9 Build resilient infrastructure; #7 Sustainable and modern energy for all; and #11 Make cities and human settlements resilient and sustainable, and with more specific source to sea goals, such as #15 Sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; #6 Sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; and #14 Sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources. What the Source to Sea Action Platform is contributing is a view on how these systems connect and how “blue and green growth” could be generated.

Q: The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) which has worked four decades to protect the marine environment of the Baltic Sea, has observed that ”none of the open basins of the Baltic Sea has an acceptable ecosystem health status”. How will this platform look back at lessons learned and see what can be done better?
JG: To start with, we can evaluate what has worked in managing water resources – this is an important part of the research that underpins the source to sea concept. We now know which source to sea linkages require coordinated governance and management responses at local, national, transboundary and global scales.

Another key step to improving the situation is to agree on common goals, whether in a small watershed or a large lake basin such as the Baltic Sea. To avoid negative impacts and ensure robust and sustainable development, coordinated planning and implementation will be critical, based on deeper stakeholder engagement from source to sea. It is important to note that we do not believe that planning and governance should be done in one fully integrated manner, rather we propose a coordinated approach between sub-systems and actors.

Q: Can you give an example to help readers understand the pressures on the water-based environment and how these are managed (or not) at the moment?
JG: The increasing salinity in the Colorado River, due to water diversions for irrigation that began in the 1960s, is causing annual crop damages at an estimated value of USD 300 million. The diversions from the Colorado River also leave little or no fresh water to reach the delta, greatly altering the environment. Downstream, fish spawning grounds have been destroyed, partly due to the loss of brackish water, resulting in the collapse of the Totoaba fishery.

Another example is pollution linkages related to nutrients in the form of eutrophication. The Baltic Sea, mentioned earlier, is often referred to as having the largest zones of dead seabed in the world, due to excess release of nutrients from economic activities. Increasing blue green algae blooms are having an impact on tourism and fisheries and reduce the aesthetic value of the sea.

Q: What single factor will be most important for making progress on the source-to-sea concept in the coming year?
JG: From my point of view we still need to clarify the science that underpins the source to sea concept, so that it is well understood and can improve planning and management on the ground and in the marine environments. Many countries are moving fast into developing their marine resources and it seems that upstream connections to the land systems are weak. If planning is not taking a whole-systems approach there could be severe ecological and economic implications.

Read more about the Source to Sea Action Platform>>

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