Assessing Indicators and Limitations of Food Security Objectives in Coral Reef Restoration

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Coral reef restoration is often presented as a marine conservation solution that provides 'win-win' outcomes. However, most studies on reef restoration have focused on the biological success, while little is known about whether social objectives are ever achieved. This study investigates a reef restoration initiative in the Spermonde archipelago, Indonesia, where food security was initially presented as an intended social outcome. We utilised an ethnographic mixed-methods approach to investigate: 1) perceived sociocultural benefits of coral restoration to the local community; 2) impacts of reef restoration on local food security; and 3) local sociocultural barriers and limitations of reef restoration as a mechanism for improving food security. We found fish contributed to food security primarily as an income source to purchase food. Local people mainly valued nearby reefs for storm protection. Furthermore, most fishers are organised through patron-client systems that target pelagic species; therefore they currently have minimal dependency on adjacent reefs. However, fishing restrictions linked to the restoration programme still negatively impacted both pelagic fishers and a small population of reef-based fishers-indirectly by damaging reciprocal fishing relations with neighbouring islands and directly by limiting access to local reefs. Complex social and trade networks associated with patron-client networks present potential barriers for transitioning to reef-based fisheries and eradicating the use of destructive fishing gear, therefore limiting access to potential food security benefits generated from reef restoration. These findings show that the relationship between coral restoration and food security is tenuous and cannot be assumed. These findings also demonstrate that social dynamics surrounding community-based conservation initiatives are complex and context-dependent, and such details must be considered when designing marine habitat restoration initiatives.

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Conservation and Society