Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Marine Affairs

Department

Marine Affairs

First Advisor

Carlos Garcia-Quijano

Abstract

This study employs a decolonial multidisciplinary approach to explore the sociocultural dimensions of a corporate-led coral reef restoration program implemented in a small island community in Indonesia framed as a conservation and food security initiative. Coral Reef Restoration (CRR) has gained increased attention as a coral conservation tool to supplement traditional approaches to tropical marine management (Boström-Einarsson et al. 2020). Like many other forms of conservation, CRR programs are often posed as dual conservation and development programs, aimed at achieving both ecological and social outcomes. Despite the intention to meet both conservation and development goals, CRR studies have been criticized for disproportionately focusing on ecological outcomes and neglecting social ones (Hein et al. 2017). Studies considering human dimensions of CRR (Rani et al. 2020; Hein et al. 2019; Uribe et al. 2018), have utilized a limited socioecological systems lens ignoring important socio-cultural factors that may influence the ways that local people engage with CRR initiatives (Dacks et al. 2019; Cote & Nightingale, 2012). Drawing on concepts from environmental anthropology, feminist science and technology studies, environmental history, and conservation science I highlight the role of power relations, cultural beliefs, and values in human-environmental systems—factors identified as strongly influential on social outcomes of marine conservation programs (Kamat and Kinshella 2018) that have been underexplored in the nascent field of CRR.

I collected data over eight months between 2016 and 2019 using an ethnographic mixed-methods approach. Structured household surveys, key informant interviews, and informal interviews were conducted in the Restoration Village, as well as villages on three neighboring islands (N=154). Ethnographic research methods were employed over an extended period to capture how the reef restoration program and its technologies influence and shift how local people relate to their surrounding coral environments. These findings were used to inform the restoration group on the cultural specificity of the local community so that they may better provide locally-meaningful socio-cultural benefits and develop improved modes of community engagement. I specifically investigated: 1) perceived socio-cultural benefits of CRR to the local community; 2) impacts of CRR on local food security and overall wellbeing; and 3) local socio-cultural barriers and limitations of CRR as a mechanism for improving food security.

This ethnographic study revealed context-specific factors that shape human environmental relations in the Restoration Village. Specifically I identified that:

  1. Local people primarily valued nearby reefs for storm protection
  2. Fish contributed to food security primarily as an income source to purchase other foods
  3. Fishers are mainly organized through patron-client systems that target pelagic species; leading to most fishers having minimal dependency on adjacent reefs.
  4. Complex social and trade networks associated with patron-client networks presented barriers to a community transition to reef-based fishing activities and equitable community access to potential food security benefits generated from reef restoration.

Informal interview data also shed light on the unintended negative impacts of the restoration program on the wellbeing of local community members. Respondents revealed feelings of vulnerability, fear, and disempowerment related to the restoration project. Despite the restoration project's best intentions to create a community-based conservation program, the transactional relation that has developed between the community and the corporate funded project has slowly evolved to fears of multiple forms of dispossession. Initially viewed as a source of supplementary income, the project is now widely viewed by respondents as a process where local people have sold their rights to marine territories they once managed. This study highlights the importance of examining socio-cultural complexities, historical context, and micro-political systems at the local level in order to understand evolving realities in the Anthropocene and to inform marine conservation programs of critical social factors that may affect their long-term success.

Available for download on Sunday, May 08, 2022

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