CNH: Enhancing Resilience of Coastal Ecosystems and Human Communities to Oceanographic Variability: Social and Ecological Feedbacks

This project will study the capacity of natural systems and human communities to adapt to environmental change. The research program will specifically investigate the impacts of oceanographic variability on coastal marine ecosystems and human communities of the Pacific coast of Baja California, Mexico, and the influences of local and global feedbacks on the resilience and adaptive capacity of these systems. Researchers will (1) characterize coastal oceanographic variability and the patterns and drivers of low-oxygen, or hypoxic, events; (2) assess the impacts of variability, particularly hypoxic events, on nearshore species, ecosystems, and fisheries, and compare these impacts with those of past ENSO events; (3) assess the cultural, social, and economic variables that influence the responses of local communities to these impacts, particularly their willingness and ability to invest in local conservation and adaptation; and (4) assess the willingness of selected groups of U.S. citizens to support these local conservation efforts and determine what factors influence such contributions.

As in a number of other coastal regions, the ecosystems and fisheries off Baja California have been heavily affected by extreme events driven by climate. ENSO events caused significant declines in key resources during 1982-83 and 1997-98, and recent episodes of low oxygen in the California Current region resulted in high mortality of ecologically and commercially important marine species. A better understanding of the capacity of humans and fisheries to adapt to oceanographic variability will help show how to mitigate the social and economic impacts of increased variability due to climate change and growing pressure on natural resources. For example, this project will help allow us to anticipate the occurrence and effects on fisheries of low-oxygen events off western North America, and to design marine reserves so as to buffer them. By examining how the local effects of uncertainty in the ocean can spread more widely in society, the project will lead to broader adaptation strategies. The project will also train undergraduate and graduate students to integrate social and ecological studies, a vitally needed skill in an increasingly crowded world.

Lead Investigator: