Fishers perceptions of ecosystem service change associated with climate‐disturbed coral reefs
Understanding ecosystem service change necessitates an understanding of the social and ecological dimensions of ecosystem services and how they contribute to the well-being of different people. These empirical research gaps persist across the tropics and in coastal environments, posing a challenge for small island states that depend on ecosystem services associated with near-shore ecosystems like coral reefs.
Perception-based approaches allow for a rapid appraisal of what constitutes ecosystem service change, providing insights into why these changes matter, and how experiences of change differ between individuals. To capture perceptions of change in four ecosystem services associated with coral reefs (habitat, fishery, coastal protection and recreation services), we conducted 41 semi-structured interviews with coral reef fishers from Seychelles, where reef ecosystems have been severely impacted by climate disturbance. We gathered quantitative and qualitative data to understand (a) if and what changes in reef-associated ecosystem services have been perceived; (b) if fishers’ characteristics are associated with differences in perceived changes and (c) which changes matter most in fishers’ lives. Using a three-dimensional approach to well-being, we sought to identify whether reasons behind the importance of change connect to fishers’ well-being.
There have been noticeable changes across all four ecosystem services investigated. Changes include social, ecological and behavioural dynamics. Every fisher perceived at least one ecosystem service change but fishers who dive/snorkel or work from larger boats perceived a higher number of ecosystem services to have changed. Education, age and participation in snorkelling/diving were associated with fishers who identified changing habitat services as most important, whereas fishers from families with fewer livelihood alternatives and from smaller islands identified changing fishery services as most important. Different aspects of the subjective, relational and material dimensions of well-being were implicated in why changing services matter.
Despite known ecological shifts in reef condition, this research is one of few studies to empirically show how changes across multiple ecosystem services are being perceived. These perceived changes are complex, engage both the social and ecological dimensions of services, and connect in multiple ways to how fishers feel about their lives, their relationships and material well-being.
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