The Babitonga Bay is the southernmost large representative of a mangrove ecosystem in the subtropical Atlantic (Brazil) and is surrounded by six coastal cities, one million citizens at the largest metropolitan region of Santa Catarina state. The estuary encompasses 75% of the state mangrove areas, hosting critically endangered species of small cetaceans (e.g., porpoises) and marine fishes. In total, there are eight Federal Decrees by the Ministry of Environment designating this ecosystem as of national ecological relevance. On the other hand, this coastal-marine area is intensively used by over 1,700 fishers, two large ports installed and about other six under environmental licensing process and, mining, aquaculture and tourism activities, which do not go along without social conflicts and ecological degradation (Cremer et al., 2006). In 2010, a cargo ship transporting steel sheets for the automotive industry sank in the mouth of Babitonga Bay, spilling 116.5 thousand litters of oil, which then spread to coastal and estuarine waters. The company was fined and the resources are currently being applied by the Public Ministry and Federal Court of Justice to improve the environmental governance of the region. Since 2015, these organizations set a partnership with a local academic institution (University of the Region of Joinville (Univille) and the Sea Memories Collective to promote collaborative knowledge-exchange activities (e.g., through workshops and meetings) with BF-EPA constituents (www.babitongaativa.com).
This is done through an ecosystems-based project combining transdisciplinary marine social-ecological systems science, an ambitious level of social participation and very clear policy goals. After one year, the project has been regularly engaged with 400 direct resource users in several parallel but interrelated activities. For instance, 177 citizens took part in 19 MSP workshops, while other 180 (six groups, one in each city) are taking part in a ten-month transdisciplinary course on ecosystems stewardship (or eco-citizenship in Portuguese) with the general objective of engaging with operating coastal and marine ecosystems-based policies and decision-making structures and building new ones to match the Babitonga ecosystem-level. The project thus orchestrates various governmental and societal organizations in co-designing new governing structures such as marine protected areas, as part of a bottom-up and inclusive regional Marine Spatial Planning process. The bay’s most critical ecosystem services are being spatially located and valued so as to guide the negotiation of trade-offs in collective planning and zoning. The project was also recently entitled by the Federal government licensing authority with the opportunity to help unifying several environmental monitoring programs that are currently in place for each of the existing ports, into one coherent ecosystems-based monitoring proposal. In the upcoming years, the process outlined above may even lead to the first area-based ocean governing system ever formally designated in Brazil with an operating management council and a management plan already in place. So far, previous political resistance from municipal governments, industry, commerce and fishers to designation of a new MPA, which has been proposed since 2005, is been resolved through intense and transparent dialogue and negotiation provided by the project.