With globally accelerating rates of environmental disturbance, coastal marine ecosystems are increasingly prone to non-linear regime shifts that result in a loss of ecosystem function and services. A lack of early-detection methods, and an over reliance on limits-based approaches means that these tipping points manifest as surprises. Consequently, marine ecosystems are notoriously difficult to manage, and scientists, managers, and policy makers are paralyzed in a spiral of ecosystem degradation. This paralysis is caused by the inherent need to quantify the risk and uncertainty that surrounds every decision. While progress toward forecasting tipping points is ongoing and important, an interim approach is desperately needed to enable scientists to make recommendations that are credible and defensible in the face of deep uncertainty. We discuss how current tools for developing risk assessments and scenario planning, coupled with expert opinions, can be adapted to bridge gaps in quantitative data, enabling scientists and managers to prepare for many plausible futures. We argue that these tools are currently underutilized in a marine cumulative effects context but offer a way to inform decisions in the interim while predictive models and early warning signals remain imperfect. This approach will require redefining the way we think about managing for ecological surprise to include actions that not only limit drivers of tipping points but increase socio-ecological resilience to yield satisfactory outcomes under multiple possible futures that are inherently uncertain.
Social-Ecological Systems and Human Wellbeing
Multi-scale social-ecological systems (SES) approaches to conservation and commons management are needed to address the complex challenges of the Anthropocene. Although SES approaches to monitoring and evaluation are advocated in global science and policy arenas, real-world applications remain scarce. Here, we describe the first operationalization and implementation of Ostrom’s influential SES framework for monitoring practice across multiple countries. Designed to inform management aimed at sustaining coral reefs and the people that depend on them, we developed our SES monitoring framework through a transdisciplinary process involving academics and practitioners with expertise in social and ecological sciences. We describe the SES monitroing framework, including how it operationalizes key insights from the SES and program evaluation literatures, and demonstrate how insights from its implementation in more than 85 communities in four countries (Fiji, Indonesia, Kenya and Madagascar) are informing decision-making at multiple levels. Responding to repeated calls for guidance on applying SES approaches to monitoring and management practice, we outline the key steps of the transdisciplinary development of the framework and lessons learnt. Therefore, our work contributes to bridging the gap between SES science and commons management practice through not only providing an SES monitoring framework that can be readily applied to coral reefs and other commons, but also through demonstrating how to operationalize SES approaches for real-world monitoring and management practice.
Marine protected areas (MPAs) have emerged as a valuable tool in biodiversity conservation and fisheries management. However, the effective use of MPAs depends upon the successful integration of social and ecological information. We investigated relationships between the social system structure of coastal communities alongside biological data describing the status and trends in fish communities around Yap, Micronesia. Traditional marine tenure made Yap an ideal place to investigate the underlying principles of social-ecological systems, as communities own and manage spatially-defined coastal resources. Analysis of social survey data revealed three social regimes, which were linked to corresponding gradients of ecological outcomes. Communities with decentralized decision-making and a preference for communal forms of fishing had the greatest ecological outcomes, while communities lacking any form of leadership were linked to poor ecological outcomes. Interestingly, communities with strong top-down leadership were shown to have variable ecological outcomes, depending on the presence of key groups or individuals. We last investigated whether social perception could successfully predict the status of fish assemblages within non-managed reefs. Several biological metrics of fish assemblages within non-managed areas were significantly predicted by a gradient of human access, suggesting social perception could not predict the growing human footprint over the study period. These findings highlight the potentially overlooked role that community-oriented decision-making structures and fishing methods could play in successful conservation efforts, and the limitations of perception data. Policies that promote communal marine resource use offer a novel approach to improve fisheries management and promote social-ecological resilience.
This paper reviews literature relating to Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and human well-being. It finds that explicit studies on human well-being from MPAs are limited and empirical studies quantifying these relationships are rare. Most MPA papers, including those examining MPA effectiveness, focus on just a few aspects of well-being in the context of a sub-set of stakeholders, and consider only a single type of MPA. They mostly focus on conventional objective measures that are not comprehensive or systematically selected. This review argues for a systematic and integrative framework to ensure future MPA assessments are equipped to capture MPAs’ contributions to human well-being more adequately and comprehensively. Such a framework can also allow for cross-MPA comparisons that can capture differences in well-being across different types of MPAs, and information gained can be useful for MPA practitioners and policy makers, particularly in reaching current global targets, such as the CBD, Aichi Target 11.
Environmental NGOs are increasingly called upon to respect human rights when undertaking conservation programs. Evaluating a family planning program running alongside marine management measures in Madagascar, we find that family planning services provided by an environmental NGO can support women’s reproductive rights. Family planning services allow the option of smaller families, and give more time to work, increased income and better health. These benefits do not translate into increased support for, or participation in, marine management, however, and women who are able to work more are typically fishing more. We identify patriarchal norms as a key factor preventing the family planning programme from manifesting in improved resource stewardship, limiting opportunities for women to participate fully in resource management meetings and diversify their livelihood outside traditional tasks, including fishing. We propose that a successful human rights-based approach must be more comprehensive, targeting multiple rights and challenging existing institutions and power structures.
The loss of biodiversity, including the collapse of fish stocks, affects the vulnerability of social-ecological systems (SESs) and threatens local livelihoods. Incorporating community-centered indicators and SES drivers and exposures of change into coastal management can help anticipate and mitigate human and/or coastal vulnerability. We have proposed a new index to measure the social-ecological vulnerability of coastal fishing communities (Index of Coastal Vulnerability [ICV]) based on species, ecosystem, and social indicators. The ICV varies from 0 (no vulnerability) to 1 (very high vulnerability) and is composed of 3 components: species vulnerability, i.e., fish biological traits; ecosystem vulnerability, i.e., environmental indicators of ecosystem health; and adaptive capacity, i.e., human ability to cope with changes. We tested the ICV of Brazil’s 17 coastal states. The average ICV for the Brazilian coast was 0.77, and variation was low among states. More than half of the coastal states revealed very high vulnerability (> 0.8). The ecosystem vulnerability values were worse than the adaptive capacity and species vulnerability values, and the North and Northeast regions were revealed to be vulnerable hot spots. Additionally, we investigated how the ICV related to specific anthropogenic risks, i.e., fish landing richness, fishery instability, market, coastal extension, and coastal population, and found that states with fewer species landings and higher coastal populations presented higher ICVs. At a time when human impacts are overtaking natural processes, understanding how these impacts lead to coastal vulnerability can help improve conservation policies. For this case study, we suggest both fisheries management measures and restoration of sensitive habitats to protect species and decrease vulnerability. The integrated evaluation developed here could be used as a baseline for coastal monitoring and conservation planning and be applied to coastal regions in which governments evaluate both social and biological aspects.
Cumulative anthropogenic activities in coastal regions are a major threat to their marine biodiversity. The consideration of coastal marine areas as social-ecological systems (CMSESs) can be useful for marine biodiversity conservation. This integrative approach incorporates social information that can link anthropogenic activities to marine biodiversity, providing opportunities for improving conservation policies tailored to the specific reality of the CMSESs. Here, we assessed the beta and alpha diversity of the shallow littoral fish communities present in the Andalusian CMSESs and explored how they relate to socioeconomic and marine environmental variables. We used underwater visual surveys to estimate the fish abundance data needed to calculate the alpha and beta diversity of the fish species. We quantified the species and functional beta diversity using abundance-based data. We also quantified species richness index as indicators of species alpha diversity, and functional evenness as indicators of functional alpha diversity. We found that the association of marine environmental and socioeconomic variables with biodiversity varied with CMSES. Empirical inclusion of biodiversity in social-ecological systems research of marine and coastal areas can provide insights on human-nature dynamics. This can contribute to design more effective marine biodiversity conservation programs that consider both the socioeconomic and marine environmental characteristics of each CMSES.
Recent projections suggest worst-case scenarios of more than six ft (1.8 m) of global mean sea-level rise by end of century, progressively making coastal flood events more frequent and more severe. The impact on transportation systems along coastal regions is likely to be substantial. An analysis of impacts for Atlantic and Cape May counties in southern New Jersey is conducted. The impact on accessibility to employment is analyzed using a dataset of sea-level increases merged with road network (TIGER) data and Census data on population and employment. Using measures of accessibility, it is shown how access will be reduced at the block-group level. An additional analysis of low and high income quartiles suggest that lower-income block groups will have greater reductions in accessibility. The implication is that increasing sea levels will have large impacts on people and the economy, and large populations will have access to employment disrupted well before their own properties or places of employment may begin to flood (assuming no adaptation).
Indonesia is part of a marine biodiversity hotspot where millions of coastal communities rely on marine resources for food security and livelihoods. The overarching objective of this study is to explore policy interventions that might help small-scale fishing communities in Indonesia to avoid or escape from an undesirable livelihood state. Selayar Island in South Sulawesi was used as a case study where intensive fishing activity occurs at the proximity of marine reserves and presenting problems and responses that are difficult to interpret due to the lack of data for this region. This four-year study used qualitative and quantitative data collection methods and the principles of systems thinking to examine the social-ecological systems that drive trends in the condition of the marine resources and the associated livelihoods.
A growing number of studies suggest a participatory ecosystem approach to support decision-making toward resilience and sustainability in social-ecological systems. Social-ecological resilience (SER) principles and practices are recommended to manage natural crises. However, it is necessary to broaden our understanding of SER on human-induced disturbances driven by economic development projects. In this paper we present the social-ecological system of Araçá Bay (Brazil), a small-scale fishery community that has experienced successive disturbances due to development projects since the 1930s. There was a lack of studies about the impacts of development projects in this bay. As part of a major project that aimed to build an ecosystem-based management plan for Araçá Bay through a participatory planning process, we focused on investigating fishers’ traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) to understand Araçá Bay’s small-scale fisheries social-ecological system. The objectives were to: (1) investigate fishers’ TEK regarding management practices and linked social mechanisms, human-induced disturbances and their consequences for the social-ecological system, ecosystem goods and services, and future threats; and (2) provide information based on TEK to the participatory planning process and analyze its contribution to Araçá Bay’s ecosystem-based management plan. Combined methods were used during 3 years of intense research-action (2014–2017): in-depth ethno-oceanographic interviews with expert fishers; monitoring Araçá Bay participatory meetings; and participant observation. Genuine local practices and social mechanisms from traditional culture were recorded, as well as TEK about 57 target fish species and methods to protect habitats and natural resources. Fishers also reported ecosystem disturbances and recovery processes. TEK was codified through SWOT analysis to assist the participatory planning process. Ecosystem services and threats based on TEK were brought to the participatory process, acknowledged by the participants, and incorporated into the management plan. TEK analysis proved to be an important methodology to provide historical environmental data regarding the impacts of development projects and support planning in disturbed ecosystems. In order to support coastal marine ecosystem-based management strategies toward SER and sustainability, researchers and practitioners should consider traditional territories in planning, recognize local practices and social mechanisms, and consider TEK on ecosystem goods and services and on historical human-induced disturbances.