New Resource on Community-Based Climate Adaptation


We recently launched our new Community-Based Climate Adaptation module which complies the latest scientific guidance and tools to help managers assess social and ecological vulnerability to climate change and other stressors. We interviewed Lizzie McLeod, our lead climate adaptation scientist, to learn about the importance of community-based climate adaptation and some of the associated benefits. Check out our conversation below!

RR: Why is community-based climate adaptation important for coral reef managers?

EM: Community-based adaptation is important for reef managers because in many cases, community responses to climate change involve management actions that aim to protect coral reefs. Reefs can help to buffer coastlines from storm impacts and sea-level rise and protect reef fisheries to maintain food security, thus their protection can help communities to be more resilient to climate change. Communities who are less vulnerable to climate change are less likely to exploit their natural resources. Coral reef managers can help to highlight the impacts of climate change on coral reef ecosystems and priority management actions to protect them. They may also be able to access climate adaptation funds which can be significant to support projects which help to build the resilience of coastal communities and reef systems.

RR: What are some of the benefits associated with community-based adaptation? 

EM: Community-based adaptation is a vital part of responding to climate change. Communities, especially those in coral reef areas, are often on the front lines of climate change (e.g., experiencing flooding and erosion from sea-level rise and storms, coral bleaching, changes in ocean chemistry, saltwater intrusion into water sources, and changes in the productivity of food trees and gardens). Community-driven adaptation actions are more likely to address local concerns, values, and priorities than top-down adaptation actions and can empower communities to plan for and cope with climate impacts. They often provide cost-effective strategies to address climate change by building on local knowledge and experiences dealing with climate variability and change. If implemented effectively, then can also ensure that communities are engaged in all levels of adaptation planning and implementation.

RR: If there is one thing managers should know about climate adaptation what would it be? 

EM: No matter what actions are taken globally to address climate change, even if greenhouse gas emissions were stabilized today, communities will still face impacts of climate change. Scientists project that sea levels will continue to rise due to thermal expansion and the atmosphere will continue to warm for at least a century, if not longer, based on the current amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and ocean. Therefore, adaptation efforts will only increase in importance as we work towards implementation of the goals set forth by the Paris Agreement to keep global temperatures below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit temperature increase to 1.5°C.

Take a deeper dive into our Community-Based Climate Adaptation Module to learn more!

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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 often more 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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Year in Review

In 2016, The Reef Resilience Network convened hundreds of marine resource managers, scientists, and decision-makers to inspire greater collaboration, share cutting-edge resilience science, and improve management decisions.

The International Coral Reef Symposium and World Conservation Congress offered ideal venues to further this work, as well as share lessons learned during the Network’s ten years. Notable scientific contributions include our research collaboration with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute to identify coral reef refuges in Palau in the face of increasing thermal stress and ocean acidity.

Take a look at our Year in Review to see our latest efforts in helping marine managers manage  coral reefs more effectively. 


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Building Coral Reef Resilience Through Assisted Evolution

There is concern that elevated sea temperatures and ocean acidification may influence the resilience of coral reefs, inherently affecting their vital role of providing the structure which maintains ecosystem services around the world. This review explores the idea of artificially enhancing the ability of reef building organisms to handle stress and accelerate recovery after impact. While there is concern that artificially manipulated organisms may have a biological advantage over endemic species, corals are good candidates for assisted evolution. The authors advocate that stress exposure to natural stock, active modification of community composition of coral symbionts, selective breeding, and laboratory breeding of the symbionts all warrant research attention. As controversy continues to surround these ideas, it is important to consider that assisted evolution strategies such as these may increase the adaptive capacity of corals, perhaps allowing them to better respond to environmental and anthropogenic stressors more easily, in turn directly enhancing resilience.

Author: van Oppen, M.J.H., J.K. Oliver, H.M. Putnam, and R.D. Gates
Year: 2015
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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112(8): 2307-2313

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Synergistic Impacts of Global Warming on the Resilience of Coral Reefs

There have been few investigations on the effects of climate change on coral reef resilience. This study focuses on how a single climate driver, sea surface temperature (SST), can both chronically (growth rate) and acutely (bleaching) affect coral reefs. A spatially explicit model was used to simulate the effects of both chronic and acute thermal stress when acting together and separately. As expected, when thermal stress does not affect reefs, coral cover increases over time. Acute thermal disturbances were found to considerably reduce coral cover and reduce reef resilience. Chronic thermal disturbances lowered resilience, but at a much smaller magnitude than those that were acute. When acting together, acute and chronic stressors act in synergism to reduce resilience. In moving forward in a changing climate, the authors argue that it is imperative to consider synergism among stressors when thinking about the future impact of climate change on reef resilience. Additionally, since reef state, or percent coral cover, and reef resilience are largely unrelated, management efforts should not be solely focused on coral cover as resilience episodes may go unnoticed. It is reef resilience that will ultimately help to identify and hopefully repair ecosystem dysfunction before any stress or damage inflicted becomes permanent.

Author: Bozec, Y-M. and P.J. Mumby
Year: 2015
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Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370: 20130267

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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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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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