Variation in social-ecological vulnerability to climate change-induced coral bleaching in coastal systems across the insular Caribbean

Authors: Sarah Lester*, Florida State University, Katherine Siegel, University of California Berkeley, Reniel Cabral, University of California Santa Barbara, Jennifer McHenry, Florida State University, Elena Ojea, University of Vigo, Spain, Brandon Owashi, University of California Santa Barbara
Topics: Coastal and Marine, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Global Change
Keywords: climate change, social-ecological vulnerability, coral reefs, fisheries, coral bleaching, Caribbean
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Coral reefs and the human communities that depend on them are facing serious impacts from climate change. Social-ecological systems are known to have varying levels of climate vulnerability, mediated by differential exposure to climatic threats, ecological and social sensitivity to those threats, ecological recovery potential, and social adaptive capacity. We assess the variation in vulnerability of coastal social-ecological systems to climate change induced coral bleaching, specifically reef-based fisheries and tourism, throughout the insular Caribbean at the island scale. The Caribbean region is ecologically, socially, and politically diverse, presenting opportunities for analysis of different factors contributing to different components of vulnerability. While past studies have focused on either the ecological resilience of Caribbean reefs or the socioeconomic vulnerability of island communities at local scales, we combine spatially-explicit data on coral reef health, reef-based economies, and marine management practices across the Caribbean. We reveal important variation in the levels of ecological and social exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity across the Caribbean. We show that spatial patterns of vulnerability are driven more by social than ecological components, and that ecological recovery potential is negatively related to socioeconomic sensitivity. We also examine how vulnerability is correlated to measures of governance, marine conservation and natural resource management across island states, for example finding that the presence of fisheries management regulations is a significant predictor of adaptive capacity. Our results are relevant to regional- and island-level efforts to reduce sensitivity and increase adaptive capacity and illuminate key factors contributing to vulnerability.

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