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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Social shocks in social-ecological systems : the impacts of sea cucumber booms for coastal communities in Mexico Kaplan-Hallam, Maery


In a world of growing interconnectivity, global scale social processes drive local-level change at ever-faster rates, shaping the challenges and opportunities faced by communities. Yet, literature on vulnerability and adaptation within social-ecological systems (SES) scholarship has largely centred on climate change and associated biophysical stressors. Key theoretical shortcomings are twofold. First, in SES scholarship, there has been limited engagement with non-climate anthropogenic drivers of change and characterization of how other social drivers impact communities and the larger social-ecological system in which communities are nested. Second, there has been less consideration of the differing timescales of change, resulting in a scholarship that is under-theorized in terms of how communities experience and respond to shocks (e.g., hurricanes, volatility in international markets, military coups) versus trends (e.g., rising ocean temperatures, urbanization). This thesis seeks to address these shortcomings by exploring the impacts of socially driven shocks in a coastal community, including implications for vulnerability and adaptation. Specifically, through a qualitative case study of a fishing community on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, I investigate how a rapidly developed sea cucumber fishery, triggered by rising demand from international seafood markets, drives dramatic change in the social structure, functioning and feedbacks within the community. I demonstrate how the emergence of sea cucumber fishing has driven novel and rapid change in the community, introducing new stressors such as poaching and violent conflict, while exacerbating pressures from ongoing trends of population increase and overfishing of other commercially valuable species. Results suggest that this spike in pressure on the social system has impacted vulnerability and challenged the capacity of local institutions to respond adaptively. This includes a decreased capacity to manage local resources and increased risks to livelihoods for fishers. By attending to social drivers of rapid change in coastal SES, this research contributes to scholarship on multiple stressors and their contributions to local vulnerability. Finally, by focusing on the impacts of change on the structure, functions and feedbacks of social systems, I provide a framework that aligns with existing SES thinking and language while creating space for a more robust engagement with the social dimensions of these linked systems.

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