The conservation of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the Dutch North Sea: an assessment of the social-ecological fit of relevant institutions

  • L. Solé

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


The increasing amount of anthropogenic activities results in an increasing amount of pressures on the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in the social-ecological system of the Dutch North Sea. In order to maintain a favourable population status under the EU Habitats Directive, a large number of institutions is implemented to govern the conservation of the harbour porpoise in this area. The objective of this research is to assess if the harbour porpoise and its social-ecological system, the Dutch North Sea, are protected in such a way that a future favourable conservation status for the harbour porpoise can be ensured in this area. The main question of this thesis is: Are the institutions governing the social-ecological system of the Dutch North Sea fit to ensure a future favourable conservation status of the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena)?
The involved institutions are assessed by looking at the different dimensions of social-ecological fit. The assessed aspects of this fit are about the correspondence of the institutions with the geographical habitat boundaries, the fit between institutions and environmental developments, the approached challenges, participation levels, values and beliefs and the correspondence of the responsibilities and the accountable authorities. By creating a complete overview of the social-ecological system by investigating the different institutions and conducting interviews, it was possible to assess the social-ecological fit of the relevant institutions that govern the Dutch North Sea and the activities taking place there.

The results of this research show that the harbour porpoise is facing an increasing amount of threats in the area and that the future brings uncertainties, especially because of climate change and economic developments. Current institutions need improvements to ensure a future favourable conservation status for the harbour porpoise. Especially the ecological fit needs attention. The institutions perform better on social fit dimensions.
Reaching a perfect social-ecological fit is difficult and often even impossible. The different aspects of fit interact with each other. A good institutional fit on one level can therefore influence the level of fit of another aspect. This is also seen back in the results of this thesis. They made clear that a good social fit, does not automatically means that there is also a good ecological fit. Since it is difficult to reach a perfect institutional fit, it should not be a goal by itself, but the concept can be applied to identify possible improvements on institutional arrangements and reach a fit that is as good as possible in the context of the complex social-ecological system.
Date of Award3 Sept 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRaoul Beunen (Examiner) & Jean Hugé (Co-assessor)

Master's Degree

  • Master Environmental Sciences

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