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Lead Scientist, Lizzie McLeod on Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change

EY7A1297Climate change affects individuals, communities, and entire ecosystems, but its impacts are not evenly distributed. Around the world, women are disproportionally impacted by poverty, political disenfranchisement and are oftenmore reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods, making gender a critical component of climate vulnerability.

At the same time, bringing women into climate science and decision-making strengthens climate action, helping communities to be more sustainable and reducing environmental and economic risks.

This March, Lizzie McLeod, The Nature Conservancy’s climate adaptation scientist for the Pacific, is hosting a learning exchange for women across the Pacific Islands to share their climate adaptation experiences and lessons learned. During the workshop, Lizzie will help to capture their innovative local solutions,while broadening women’s engagement in sustainability. We caught up with Lizzie to discuss her work on the frontlines of gender and climate risk.

Staff News: Hi Lizzie. Tell us about yourself: How many years have you been at TNC and how did you get started in this work?

Lizzie: I have been at TNC for 15 years! I started as a coral reef scientist and became interested in exploring how coral reefs react to warming ocean temperatures. The biggest shift in my career took place when I started working more closely with coastal communities. As a marine scientist, I understood the importance of conducting research to model climate impacts, but working with communities in the Pacific deepened my appreciation for solutions that were developed directly from the communities themselves. Mirroring the broader trend in the Conservancy’s work, I also  shifted from focusing on the natural sciences to tackling the intersection of people and nature. Climate change is the single biggest environmental threat facing Pacific Island communities, so strategies that help communities and ecosystems adapt to a changing world are crucial.

While working with different communities, why is it important to focus on bringing women into climate research and solutions?

LM: Women often face unequal access to natural resources and decision-making and limited mobility which can make them disproportionately affected by climate change. Women also may face social, economic and political barriers that can limit their ability to cope with climate impacts. However, vulnerability varies among groups and individuals as well as over time. We cannot simply view women as a homogenized “vulnerable” group. Doing so prevents us from appreciating and addressing the power relations involved, and the active role that many women play in environmental management, climate mitigation, and adaptation. We need to explore how and in what contexts women are able to deal with the unequal effects of climate change and also develop solutions that build their capacity to create positive and lasting change in their communities.

In addition…

Women often bring different perspectives, knowledge and solutions to the table. Women’s responsibilities in their homes and communities, and their management of natural resources, means that they are critical to strategies designed to address changing environmental conditions. As an example, in many Pacific Islands, the women are the ones that primarily harvest taro – a culturally important and dietary staple threatened by climate change. Therefore, engaging women is critical to developing sustainable climate solutions that build on their traditional knowledge and expertise managing the resource. It wasn’t until scientists built gender into their research that they gained insights into the practices that the women were using to help farms adapt to saltwater intrusion, changing rainfall patterns, and sea-level rise. While it’s true that in many areas, women are especially vulnerable to climate impacts, what is often overlooked is that they also are often leading the way to experiment with climate solutions.

What inspired your idea for a women’s learning exchange as opposed to a broader community workshop?

LM: If you want the real story, the idea originated at a previous climate workshop when I saw women getting up to speak and getting cat-called by some of the men in attendance. Their input was marginalized. Women are often excluded from environmental decision-making including policy discussions about conservation and resource use, so we wanted to figure out a way to ensure that their voices would be heard and that they could help to shape climate solutions. This learning exchange will be the first time that these women from across the Pacific are all together in a space to discuss their ideas and climate solutions. By bringing these women together and creating a platform, we believe that we will be able to validate the critical role that women play in adaptation, strengthen existing adaptation actions, and help to leverage these solutions across the region.

You focus on the Pacific in your work. Why is this region important for climate solutions?

LM: Islands across the Pacific are literally on the frontline of climate change and are among the most vulnerable to coastal storms, sea level rise, ocean acidification and changing rainfall patterns. These effects are already being felt by communities in the Pacific, resulting in a lot of political will and motivation to take action. The Nature Conservancy has a 25-year track record of success in the Pacific and has relationships with leaders from the local level up to the national stage, which gives us the dual opportunity of cultivating solutions for some of the most at-risk communities and scaling them up to implement solutions around the world. Most importantly, cultural identity is tied to the land. When land is lost, culture is lost. We have a moral imperative to focus our work in this area and an opportunity to make a significant contribution to improve people’s lives.

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Integrating Ecosystem Services into Coral Reef Policy and Management – Hawai’i, 2017

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The Reef Resilience Network partnered with Blue Solutions to host a five-day training on Integrating Ecosystem Services into Coral Reef Policy and Management on March 6-10, 2017. Experts and participants from 12 different agencies gathered in Kona, Hawaii to gain experience in evaluating ecosystem services and how to effectively communicate the benefits they provide to people to guide decision making and inform management within their jurisdiction. The workshop included a field trip to the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai and Kiholo Bay, where participants applied their new skills to identify the ecosystem services each place provides. Over the week, participants became familiar with different tools and resources for assessing and valuing ecosystem services and learned how to navigate and create maps with Mapping Ocean Wealth. Next steps for the participants include sharing key concepts and messages about ecosystem services within their jurisdiction and incorporating learned skills into their work, projects and plans.
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Marine Protected Areas Increase Resilience Among Coral Reef Communities

Whether or not marine protected areas (MPAs) can help mitigate the effects of multiple stressors and promote coral reef resilience around the world remains controversial. This study investigates community resistance both within MPAs and in areas which experienced a change in their protection status on reef communities on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). In using models for data analysis, it was found that fish and benthic assemblages were more stable on reefs inside MPAs despite experiencing a higher frequency of disturbance than reefs in non-MPA areas. While spatial and environmental characteristics were found to be similar across both MPAs and non-MPAs, non-MPA sites demonstrated highly variable assemblages of fish and benthic communities. There was a clear stabilization of these assemblages after a site was granted increased levels of protection. MPAs were found to be further advantageous as stressors were found to have limited influence on community composition and communities were able to recover faster than those in non-MPA sites. It is concluded that MPAs have increased both the resistance and recovery of coral reef communities in the shallow areas of the GBR. While MPAs are widespread around the world, they remain controversial in some areas. Knowing that these areas of increased protection can help increase reef resilience and perhaps slow the decline of coral cover in cases of disturbance, MPAs should receive continual support as utilization as effective management tools in the promotion of coral reef resilience.

Author: Mellin, C., M.A. MacNeil, A.J. Cheal, M.J. Emslie, and M.J. Caley
Year: 2016
View Abstract
Email for the full article: resilience@tnc.org

Ecology Letters 19(6): 629–637. doi: 10.1111/ele.12598

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Reef Resilience Indicators – Hawai‘i, 2016

During the IUCN World Conservation Congress, twenty-seven marine resource managers, scientists, and practitioners, representing nine countries, attended a half-day workshop to learn how to monitor coral reefs for resilience and use this information to guide management.

Workshop participants learned about resilience-based management – what it is, why it’s important, and how they can incorporate resilience concepts and strategies into existing management efforts. They got a behind the scenes look into The Nature Conservancy’s reef resilience assessment for west Hawai’i Island (what it takes to conduct an ecological resilience assessment from planning and data collection to analysis) from the Hawai’i Program’s Marine Science Director Dr. Eric Conklin. They were also treated to examples and stories from across the globe about how the results of resilience assessments have translated into management and policy from Dr. Rodney Salm, Senior Advisor, Marine Program Pacific Division, The Nature Conservancy.

Twelve of the workshop participants joined the second session – an afternoon snorkel trip to two reefs in Kaneohe Bay to provide guidance on identifying resilience indicators in the field.

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Strategic Communications – American Samoa, 2016

A three-day workshop was held in partnership with NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program to help marine conservation and education professionals from eight agencies in American Samoa approach their work strategically. Participants learned key components of strategic communications, and applied these concepts to develop communications plans for climate change preparation projects in American Samoa. Based on participants’ needs, training was also provided in media relations with opportunity for practical application of these skills. Read the report.
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Community-Based Management – Hawai‘i, 2015

Four participants from The Bahamas National Trust and the Abaco Fly Fishing Guides Association visited Hawai‘i to learn about community-based management initiatives across the state, with emphasis on the State of Hawai‘i’s Makai Watch Program – an innovative program engaging communities in the management of their nearshore marine resources by building voluntary compliance through outreach and the reporting of violations to state authorities. Participants took part in a series of meetings with the coordinators and volunteers for the Makai Watch program, as well as with other programs in support of marine conservation in Hawai‘i implemented in collaboration with the Hawai‘i Department of Land and Natural Resources, with NGOs, and community-based organizations. The learning exchange was hosted in partnership with the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute and NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program and was organized in conjunction with the Pacific Islands Marine Protected Areas Community. Read the report.
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Scientific Writing – Hawai‘i, 2015

A four-day writing workshop was held for Pacific Island coral reef managers from Hawaiʻi, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa who received mentorship from The Nature Conservancy’s former Chief Scientist Peter Kareiva and team of reviewers to improve writing skills and finalize a journal publication for submission. Read about participants’ research on fish and octopus. Read the report.
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