People are as much a part of this planet as any other species. We are ecosystem engineers, modifying and creating new environments to suit our needs. We are incredibly adaptable, and our ability to make tools – both simple and technologically complex – has allowed us to prosper and rise above many of the restrictions that limit other species. This doesn’t mean we can now act completely in isolation from the rest of the world. Many of our activities have altered ecosystems in ways that mean they are less likely to meet our current and future needs. Conservation efforts are attempting to remedy many of the problems we have created, but conservation isn’t just about nature – it’s about people too.
Nathan Bennett has been actively researching the links between the environment and human societies for many years. His work takes a perspective that historically has often been forgotten in conservation management; what about humans. This isn’t about developing opportunities of industry – it’s about conservation initiatives that look to sustain environment and communities together. This week he has shared three of his papers on his blog – one from 2013 and two from this year. Thanks to Nathan, all three are now open access…all three very much worth a read. Here’s a brief overview of each paper to whet your appetite.
The trouble with marine protected areas
So here’s the deal. We can find an area of the ocean that is becoming heavily degraded because of human activities. To try to reduce the damage and allow recovery we can place a boundary around that area and place restrictions on the sorts of activities that take place inside. But what of those people whose activities have been displaced? We aren’t just talking about recreational fishers here. In some circumstances, communities which are heavily dependent on the marine environment can be affected. In this paper, Nathan and his colleague Phil Dearden surveyed coastal resource dependent communities living on the Andaman Coast of Thailand – an area which boasts 17 National Marine Parks. The perspective of these people makes for grim reading. They saw little benefit in the parks for their community, they felt that fishing and harvesting was negatively impacted by the parks, and they felt little incentive to support let alone participate in conservation efforts. What needs to happen, writes Nathan and Phil, is for managers to start including socio-economic development considerations within protected area management planning. This won’t just be better for the communities, but better for marine conservation.
It’s not just about how vulnerable you are, it’s what you can do to adapt
We’re back to the Andaman Coast of Thailand again, this time to consider their vulnerability and ability to adapt to climate change. There are a whole host of different factors that can affect a community’s ability to adapt to climate change – and indeed any other sort of stressor. Some of these are biophysical – climate change related impacts such as coral bleaching, or increasing number of storms, as well as environmental impacts such as marine pollution and overfishing. Some of the factors are economic – like increasing costs of fuel, social – like increasing immigration, and some are related to governance, like corruption, policies, or illegal fishing. Nathan and the team wanted to find out how communities felt about stressors. They surveyed 237 households across 7 coastal communities to ascertain which of the 36 stressors identified in the region were considered having highest impact on the communities. The results were a bit of a mixed bag, and despite the communities being just 10 km apart, differed between each community. There were a few common factors though. Many of the stressors were heavily intertwined. Climate change impacts like more extreme storms and changes to rainfall were rated highly in the stress-rankings. Economic factors – particularly rising costs – also came out as a major concern among all the communities. Interestingly somewhat in contrast to the study above, marine protected areas were not really felt to be causing too much trouble. What about overfishing? Not a concern either… but then again the fish populations declined long ago, so overfishing isn’t really an immediate concern any more. The thing about these sorts of stressors is that they aren’t really something that the community can deal with themselves. They are part of wider regional and global problems. From an adaptation perspective, this raises a number of issues. There is not a ‘one adaptation plan to fit all’, but there are common factors that need to be looked at beyond the communities themselves. Equally important, if we want to help communities to adapt, we cannot treat one stressor as separate from another. A more integrated approach is vital for the success of any adaptation plan.
The eco-social economy: How conservation can aid social and economic development
In this final paper the focus is turned to the Northwest Territories Canada and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation. There have been plans afoot for their traditional territory…plans for a national park/protected area. This is an old idea, and one that back in 1969 when the Government of Canada (Federal Government) tried to implement met with the opposition of the local people, who were successful in preventing the creation of a park. In 2006, the First Nation and the Government of Canada signed a Memorandum of Understanding to look at implementing a park on those very same territories. So what happened? This new proposal has come from the local people themselves – a bottom up rather than top-down approach to conservation. Through this collaborative process the park is taking an eco-social perspective to conservation. Here, people aren’t just seen as the cause of degradation, but are seen as part of the ecosystem, impacted by the degradation. The national park is not yet set up but is moving forward. When it is, it is hoped that the park won’t just protect nature and the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation culture, but work to meet social and economic development goals.
If you want to follow more of Nathan’s work head over to his blog http://nathanbennett.ca. There is a follow option which will automatically update you of any new posts. Now there’s some emails worth getting.
Image: The Lutsel K’e Dene on Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada. Credit: Leslie Philipp/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)