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Tracing environmental and livelihood dynamics in a tropical coastal lagoon through the lens of multiple adaptive cycles

Hoang Trung Thanh, UWA School of Agriculture and Environment, The University of Western Australia; Center for Environmental Research, Vietnam Institute of Meteorology, Hydrology and Climate Change
Petra Tschakert, UWA School of Agriculture and Environment, The University of Western Australia
Matthew R. Hipsey, UWA School of Agriculture and Environment, The University of Western Australia


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Understanding the long-term dynamics of social-ecological systems is critical to better inform sustainable management. Since Holling’s adaptive cycle heuristic, published in 2001, substantial progress has been made to explore historical changes in agricultural, pastoral, and forest systems. However, the application of this heuristic in coastal fishery systems has been relatively rare. Using the Tam Giang Lagoon in Vietnam as an example of a rapidly changing environment, we explore the historical behavior of this tropical coastal social-ecological system (SES), associated livelihood pathways, and possible challenges for future livelihood adaptations through the lens of the adaptive cycle metaphor. Our analysis demonstrates that the present lagoon SES condition is the result of a series of historical events and reorganization attempts through two complete adaptive cycles. The lagoon’s future vulnerability is tied to the intensification of human uses, prolonged ecological degradation, and intensifying climatic hazards. We show how the evolution of the lagoon SES resulted in divergent livelihood pathways that bring benefits to some users but also cause persistent constraints and sometimes irreversible losses to other users in shared common pool resources. A one-size-fits-all fishery management approach is therefore ill-suited for improving diverse livelihoods. We recommend that fishery policies take seriously the heterogeneity in livelihood pathways for sustainable lagoon management. We end by reflecting on the usefulness of the adaptive cycle heuristic in systematically exploring historical dynamics and identifying underlying drivers and feedbacks between the social and ecological components of complex fishery systems.

Key words

adaptive cycle; coastal lagoon; dynamics; livelihood pathways; social-ecological systems; Vietnam

Copyright © 2020 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087