Multiscale determinants of social adaptive capacity in small-scale fishing communities

Stephanie D'agata*, Emily S. Darling, Georgina G. Gurney, Tim R. McClanahan, Nyawira A. Muthiga, Ando Rabearisoa, Joseph M. Maina

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    8 Citations (Scopus)


    Climate change is expected to reinforce undesirable social and ecological feedbacks between ecosystem degradation and poverty. This is particularly true for resource-dependent communities in the developing world such as coral reef fishing communities who will have to adapt to those new environmental conditions and novel ecosystems. It is therefore crucial to identify: i) multiscale characteristics that can influence social adaptive capacity of local communities to climate change, and ii) current and future social-ecological conditions related to climate change that might lead communities to experience unsustainable and undesirable states (i.e., “social-ecological traps”). Here, we investigated social adaptive capacity and the relationship to ecological conditions in 29 small-scale fishing communities in Madagascar and Kenya in the Western Indian Ocean. We found that isolation from a market and climate stress had a significant negative relationship with social adaptive capacity, while a higher level of education and the presence of market traders (middlemen) had a positive relationship. In general, resource management through marine protected areas and locally managed marine areas had a positive influence on ecological conditions. Combining social adaptive capacity and ecological conditions revealed that 80 % of fishers households surveyed were experiencing social-ecological states that could lead to unsustainable social-ecological conditions, while 10 % might already be experiencing social-ecological traps. Our findings reveal specific mechanisms by which conservation and development activities can increase social adaptive capacity in coastal communities, including but not limited to: increasing market access and education, and mitigating future climate exposure and unsustainable fishing through improved marine conservation and management.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)56-66
    Number of pages11
    JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


    • Social adaptive capacity
    • Coral reef ecosystems
    • Climate change
    • Small-scale fisheries
    • Market accessibility
    • Social-ecological systems


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