UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Adaptive capacity in social-environmental crisis : the case of the red tide/salmon farming conflict in Chiloé (Chile) Arriagada, Nayadeth


In 2016, a large social movement developed on the Island of Chiloé in protest against the consequences of the worst harmful algal blooms in Chile’s history, as well against the salmon farming industry that had, during the same period, dumped 9,000 tonnes of dead fish into the sea less than 75 nautical miles off Chiloé, doing so with the national government’s authorization. Research on coastal zones had shown that these communities are suffering a broad array of stressors that challenges them socially, culturally and economically. Climate change impacts, decreases in marine species, global market pressures, among others, are slowly changing disturbances that increase their local vulnerabilities. Yet, limited attention has been put on coastal communities that are also exposed to large industrial developments, and the role of social conflict as a driver of change in converging social and environmental shocks as the Chiloé crisis illustrates. Thus, through a qualitative approach, this research describes the perceptions of Chiloé inhabitants regarding the multiple shocks of the red tide/salmon crisis, and its impact on their social adaptive capacity. Results suggest that social adaptive capacity is extremely challenged to a breakdown point, due to an overall environmental uncertainty that dominates knowledge and perceptions regarding environmental changes, and consequently, livelihoods opportunities and governance. Specifically, there are opposing narratives about the causes and consequences of the algal blooms and marine degradation. While government blames climate change, key players in the movement claim that industrial salmon farming toxicity is the main cause. A few positive outcomes are associated with the social movement’s efforts such as a Supreme Court decision in favor of the communities. However, national and local institutional responses seem short-term oriented and uncertainty undermines their ability to address future environmental challenges. Thus, this thesis contributes to the literature that examines multiple stressors, vulnerability, and adaptive capacity, by putting at the center the role of social drivers of change, and specifically, social conflict. Finally, by illustrating people’s knowledge as an experience of uncertainty that impacts the other domains of adaptive capacity, this research contributes to the under-theorized role of knowledge in the adaptive capacity and resilience theoretical framework.

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