Environmental and social recovery asymmetries to large-scale disturbances in small island communities
People’s livelihoods in tropical small-island developing states are greatly dependent on marine ecosystem services. Yet services such as fisheries and coastal buffering are being degraded at an alarming rate, thus making people increasing vulnerable to protracted and sudden environmental changes. In the context of the occurrences of extreme events such as earthquakes and tsunamis, it is vital to uncover the processes that make people in these island states resilient, or not, to environmental disruptions. This paper compares people’s perceptions of social and environmental impacts after an extreme event in the Western Solomon Islands (11 different villages on 8 different islands) to better understand how knowledge systems influence the coupling of human and natural systems. We examine the factors that contributed to perceptions of respective recovery in the environmental versus the social domains across communities with different traditional governance and modernization characteristics in a tsunami impact gradient. First, we separately assessed, at the community and individual level, the potential determinants of perceived recovery in the environmental and social domains. At the community level, the average values of the perceived environmental and social recovery were calculated for each community (1 year after the tsunami), and at the individual level, normally distributed environmental and social recovery variables (based on the difference in perceptions immediately and 1 year after the tsunami) were used as dependent variables in two General Linear Models. Results suggest that environmental and social resilience are not always coupled correspondingly and, less unexpectedly, that asymmetries during recovery can occur as a result of the underlying social and ecological context and existing adaptive capacity. More generally, the study shows how by evaluating post-disturbance perceptional data in tsunami-affected communities, we can better understand how subjective perceptions of change can affect the (de)-coupling of human and natural systems.