The Westfjords are a particularly rugged and remote part of Iceland, attached to the mainland only by a thin stretch of mountainous terrain. Deep fjords riddle the landscape and provide shelter for the small settlements and rich marine resources for their inhabitants. In recent years, traditional fisheries have made way to aquaculture in open sea cages and the advent of cruise ship tourism has seen the arrival of large ships as well as international visitors to the area. With so many activities and industries in the same marine space, Iceland has recently launched pilot coastal and marine planning processes in the Westfjords and Eastfjords.
This case study focusses on the participation of the local inhabitants in this planning process. Public participation is vital for the long-term success and legitimisation of marine spatial planning, and it helps to support remote coastal communities in enacting their agency in relation to sustainable development and working towards SDGs UN Sustainable Development Goals. Numerous interviews and a public workshop were held to engage the public and investigate participation in marine planning. In addition, data was also gathered in the Eastfjords where similar plans are being created, and in Húsavík which is next on the planning agency’s list of marine areas that will undergo planning. To situate the case study and the findings in terms of participation and obstacles to participation in marine planning, a small comparative study was also conducted in Troms in Norway. Together, the findings suggest that public participation is undervalued in the current planning system and offers a multitude of engagement possibilities that help to break down barriers and create platforms for discussion of marine issues. Such public learning and discussion platforms are needed in order to find common ground amidst plentiful conflicts of interest and to educate and engage the public in their local coastal and marine decision-making processes.
In addition to the core case study in the Westfjords, PhD candidate Maria Wilke from the Agricultural University of Iceland had the opportunity to investigate community engagement on a less traditional platform. She joined a marine science sailing expedition around Iceland organised by the non-profit organisation Ocean Missions. The aims of the Ocean Mission expeditions lie in raising awareness about marine issues around Iceland and educating the public about getting involved in ocean decision-making – aims that are also central to all the COAST work. The expedition sailed from Húsavík in the North of Iceland around the Westfjords and Snæfellsnes all the way to Reykjavík within seven days. Read more about it here. The expedition was also documented by filmmaker Cat Koppel.