Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon World Heritage Areas

Publication review

- Simplistic approaches that ignore social and economic linkages are doomed to failure, says researchers from Stockholm Resilience Centre in this article on adaptive management in social-ecological landscapes.

The researchers, which include Science Director Carl Folke, Per Olsson, Henrik Österblom, Marten Scheffer, Max Troell and Brian Walker, state that old paradigms that view humans as separate entities from nature, are no longer tenable. New conceptual frameworks are rapidly emerging.

Providing better collaboration for better management
The article, entitled "Adaptive Management of the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon World Heritage Areas", was published in Ambio in November 2007.

Here, the researchers explore how a better understanding of the linkages and feedbacks between social and ecological systems can guide the emergence of improved systems of natural resource management.

- Managing uncertainty, coping with environmental and climate change, and sustaining ecosystems will require a much greater focus on the integration of ecosystem ecology with the human dimension across multiple ecological and social scales, Carl Folke says. He is Science Director at Stockholm Resilience Centre and one of the authors behind the article.

Furthermore, a renewed role for science will emerge from an adaptive governance framework that better bridges collaboration between scientists, stakeholders, communities and government agencies.

Changes cause concern
The Great Barrier Reef is the largest reef system in the world, extending some 2000 km along the eastern seaboard of Queensland.

Today, it is showing symptoms of ecological change and increased vulnerability that is a cause for concern. Fisheries have collapsed or are no longer commercially viable.
Likewise, changes are noticeable in the Grand Canyon as well.

Being one of the largest geomorphic features on the planet, created over the past 6-10 million years by the Colorado River, it is today witnessing changes caused by the construction of The Glen Canyon Dam. These changes include ecosystem shifts such as loss of seven species of native fish, the endangerment of four others and a reduction of habitat diversity.

Despite their vast physical and biological differences, there are a number of striking parallels between the two World Heritage Areas. Both systems have increasingly adopted the use of large-scale trials to resolve the many uncertainties that accompany current changes.

Extensive collaboration initiatives
Policy changes and state legislation have been vital to producing adaptive management programs. These programs have allowed resource managers to undertake experiments through collaborative and participatory processes involving a wide range of stakeholders and agencies.

- The focus on adaptive responses and stakeholder integration is a different social dynamic from one where scientists and policymakers typically inform and educate each other while paying only token attention to stakeholder engagement, Carl Folke says.

Grounds for better governance
The article states that both the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon are well positioned to build further on satisfying forms of adaptive governance.

However, it requires a sound understanding of ecosystem dynamics, a flexible approach to management, multilevel social networks and a willingness to confront uncertainty by developing the capacity to deal with change.

- These are approaches that are robust strategies necessary for dealing with the much larger economic and social costs of long-term environmental degradation, Carl Folke says.


Full reference: Hughes T.P., L. Gunderson, C. Folke, A. Baird, D. Bellwood, F. Berkes, B. Crona, A. Helfgott, H. Leslie, J. Norberg, M. Nystrom, P. Olsson, H. Österbloom, M. Scheffer, H. Schuttenberg, R.S. Steneck, M. Tengö, M. Troell, B. Walker, J. Wilson, and B. Worm. 2007. Adaptive management of the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon World Heritage Areas. Ambio 36:586-592.