Linking ecosystem services and wellbeing to improve coastal conservation initiatives under conditions of rapid social-ecological change
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Over the last 50 years, researchers have observed a decline in marine biodiversity by approximately 50%. The consequences are alarming for global food production, especially fisheries, and critical economic sectors, such as tourism. Loss of traditions and sociocultural heritage is also a relevant social-ecological change driven by unsustainable development processes worldwide. Marine protected areas (MPAs) and other conservation enclosures have emerged as a governance response to the social-ecological changes that lead to marine and coastal degradation. If effective, they can serve as a foundation for socioeconomic development, as well as habitat protection and sources of ecological ‘spill-over’. International agreements, such as the Aichi Targets and those emerging with the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, encourage an expansion of MPAs worldwide, as well as governance approaches that are more participatory and collaborative. However, many MPAs were established in ways that ignore or discount human communities that depend upon ecosystem services (i.e., nature’s benefit to people), such as fisheries. This situation has led to conflict between MPA managers and the communities who depend upon coastal ecosystem services, jeopardizing both livelihoods and opportunities for conservation success. Opportunities to reduce conflict in MPA governance are context-specific, subjected to rapid social-ecological changes, and are often poorly understood. The COVID-19 pandemic has drawn attention to the rapid social-ecological changes that can shape (and quickly re-shape) livelihoods, wellbeing and connections to nature. In times of rapid change, the values people have towards nature, including the subjective benefits of nature for mental wellbeing, are often more clearly recognized. However, despite evidence of these benefits, empirical research that highlights the linkages among coastal ecosystems and people’s wellbeing do not always inform governance strategies to improve conservation outcomes. Moreover, the literature on ecosystem services examines how people can benefit from nature, but key gaps remain in disaggregating data about ecosystem service contributions to wellbeing of coastal communities, and particularly with reference to the global South. To fill these gaps, my doctoral research examines ways to foster more effective MPA governance in coastal systems under conditions of uncertainty and rapid social-ecological change. I specifically aim to: 1) evaluate and assess participatory and visual methods that can help gather data on people's connection to nature to inform governance processes; 2) identify and examine the empirical and disaggregated links among ecosystem services and social wellbeing; 3) assess how a better understanding of the links among ecosystem services and social wellbeing (i.e., wellbeing-ecosystem services bundles or WEBS) can improve MPA governance fit. I draw on WEBS and governance fit frameworks to identify these links and ways in which they can improve the gaps between local context and MPA goals and policies. My fieldwork was conducted on the southeast coast of Brazil, where I used mixed methods for data collection. Key methods include Photovoice activities in three coastal communities, 59 surveys and three participatory workshops including graphic facilitation with 48 community members, and semi-structured interviews with MPA managers. Community participants were selected through snowball sampling based on four main criteria: (i) high dependence on small-scale fisheries and direct exploitation of natural resources to sustain local livelihoods and/or culture, (ii) interest of members in participating in the research phases, (iii) proximity to MPAs, and (iv) proximity between communities allowing for feasible logistics (less than 50km). In exploring participatory methods, I have collaborated with coastal communities, MPA managers, and local organizations, to elicit varied perspectives about the governance of MPAs and to foster local capacity building. In Chapter 2, I use Photovoice to combine photographs and rich stakeholder narratives to understand key WEBS to inform MPA governance. I found that Photovoice was useful in highlighting the relevance of social relations to coastal communities, revealing how the ‘canoe’ as a manifestation of particular ecosystem services also serves to benefit cultural identity and collective action. In Chapter 3, I examine how stakeholders perceive WEBS and what tensions and similarities arise from these perceptions to inform and improve MPA governance. Specifically, I found that individuals perceive or experience the interplay among components of WEBS in four different ways and developed a typology of these four ‘pathways of interaction’, including experiential, extractive, observational, and visual pathways. Chapter 4 provides insights on the social dimension of MPA governance fit based on implications of rules, levels of trust, conflict and legitimacy of conservation authorities. Here, I found that stakeholder perceptions vary according to intergenerational changes, sense of ownership over the territory and understanding of the rules; and that high trust levels among stakeholders are linked to predictability of behavior over time. This thesis conceptually develops and empirically illustrates the insights and contributions obtained from adopting a WEBS perspective on MPA governance fit. By combining ecosystem services with social wellbeing approaches, I can identify the social-ecological mechanisms that constrain effective MPA governance, and emphasize the importance of ecosystem services to enhance ways of living together and maintaining traditions and beliefs. As such, this research offers several methodological, empirical, and theoretical contributions. First, by using Photovoice, I showed the relevance that coastal environments have as an arena for cultural reproduction, knowledge exchange, and political engagement. In this manner, the imagery of the ‘canoe’ emerged as an iconic cultural object that draws attention to these relationships. One of the methodological contributions of this study is the identification of Photovoice's limitations. Specifically, I identify technological constraints of cameras, challenges in accurately reflecting natural cycles in a photograph, and timing restrictions as limitations of Photovoice. I further show how these limitations can be overcome in a participatory research process in which the benefits of engaging community members in a collaborative manner opens opportunities for better outcomes. Second, I empirically demonstrate pathways of interaction between ecosystem services and people’s wellbeing (i.e., experiential, extractive, observational, and visual), deconstructing the dichotomy between material and non-material ecosystem services. Finally, I contribute to the theory of governance fit, and show how intergenerational change and sense of ownership over the territory are core drivers of ‘misfit’ in conservation rules. I further show that high trust levels among stakeholders is linked to predictability of behaviour over time and the legitimacy of conservation authorities. While the findings presented here are based on research in Brazil, insights are relevant to a wide range of contexts given the global expansion of MPAs and increased attention to Indigenous and non-Indigenous coastal communities.
Cite this version of the work
Ana Carolina Esteves Dias (2020). Linking ecosystem services and wellbeing to improve coastal conservation initiatives under conditions of rapid social-ecological change. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/16381