Coastal communities are on the frontline of three important and accelerating global change processes: climate change, “blue economy” development, and the rapid expansion of area-based conservation initiatives – a phenomena recently coined as ‘triple exposure’. While these change processes and the approaches used to address them (e.g., climate adaptation projects) can support sustainability and well-being in some cases, in others these external processes can converge to amplify vulnerabilities and inequalities. Moreover, pre-existing environmental or political social injustices may increase the vulnerability of people to change processes, and may decrease their capacity to adapt to, or benefit from, interactive impacts of ‘triple exposure’. This topic is described in an article published in One Earth on February 17th 2023, by the interdisciplinary research group Blue Justice, funded by the French Foundation for Biodiversity Research (FRB) within its Centre for the Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity (CESAB). This group represents a global network of researchers and practitioners to examine the linkages between ocean conservation, climate change, and equity. The authors argue that social justice and local resilience must be prioritized in order to address the negative impacts of ‘triple exposure’, and reach the objectives of effective and equitable climate adaptation, blue economy, and conservation initiatives.
In order to achieve this shift towards social justice and resilience, David Gill, Assistant Professor at Duke University, and his colleagues recommend that climate, economic, and conservation actors seek to:
- Tackle the root causes of vulnerability, namely pre-existing social injustices;
- Use participatory systems approaches to improve the understanding of the local context and potential unintentional consequences of suggested initiatives;
- And develop inclusive partnerships between diverse actors for the capacity and coordination to facilitate effective and more equitable design and implementation.
In a fast changing world, these strategies, applied together and adapted to the local context, provide an opportunity to develop coastal initiatives that support wellbeing, justice, and resilience of coastal communities.
These measures become all the more significant during catastrophes.
To illustrate their recommendations, the authors identify several examples, including some linked to catastrophes. In 2020, while international efforts were constrained by the pandemic related border closures, an oil spill happened in Mauritius, causing severe impacts on local reefs and threatening the livelihoods of those who depend on them. A local NGO activated its network of volunteers within the community and opened their doors to available resources – necessary for the first clean-up actions.The perceived institutional vacuum for a clean up response in the immediate aftermath of the spill led to strong community engagement in the making of artisanal booms and their deployment at sea. Government institutions did not hinder and instead provided support to the volunteer groups until clean up companies were appointed formally and official clean up efforts began. This shows the importance of inclusive partnerships in tackling environmental or human-caused stressors.
The Blue Justice working group gathers an international panel (North America, UK, France, Australia, Fiji, Italy, Spain etc.) of specialists in marine biology, conservation biology, social science and environmental law.