Social science and shellfish. Are shellfish social? Well, oysters, for example, are referred to as gregarious since their larvae preferentially select settlement locations – where they will live for the rest of their lives – near other oysters. But that isn’t exactly the kind of social up for study by a new project supported by the Institute for Coastal Research and the Centre for Shellfish Research. We’re pretty excited about the newest member of the team Dr. Linda D’Anna who is starting new research to characterize the social-ecological properties, processes, and interactions within the Baynes Sound ecosystem that promote social-ecological resilience. Linda D’Anna, a postdoctoral fellow is working with VIU faculty members Grant Murray and Sarah Dudas. This work will focus on the relationship between shellfish aquaculture and social-ecological resilience. As part of an interdisciplinary approach to the study of social-ecological resilience, the project will focus on the social and cultural aspects of shellfish aquaculture as a potential agent of change – both positive and negative – in Baynes Sound.
In other words, what are the potential social, economic, and environmental costs and benefits of shellfish aquaculture for Baynes Sound?
The idea of a social-ecological system is the “humans-in-nature” concept. Human and ecological systems are tightly linked; they can be pretty impossible to disentangle. And they are complex – there can be a great deal of uncertainty about how they will respond to change. Ecologically, we know that there are connections and feedbacks among different aspects of a system, even though we don’t always know what they are. When conditions change, these connections and feedback loops keep things together, and the system maintains itself. But when we get to a certain point or level of change, those connections don’t work anymore, and the system can change rapidly. We often don’t know where that threshold is, how much change is okay, or how the system will change.
We can use the concept of resilience to describe these dynamics. Resilience is the amount of change a system can undergo and still retain the same identity, structure, and function. It’s concerned with how much disturbance a system can absorb without fundamentally changing. This includes natural disturbances, like storms or fires, but also human activities, such as resource use or pollution, which can create disturbances. How an ecosystem responds to something like resource use and how people respond to changes in ecosystem defines a coupled, dynamic system – a linked social-ecological system.
We can also say that resilience is part of how a society adapts to imposed changes – its adaptive capacity or level of sustainability. A community’s level of adaptive capacity is determined by many things, including economic (and other types) diversity, flexibility, willingness to combine sources of knowledge, ability to learn and enhance adaptability. A critical difference between the social and ecological ends of resilience is human agency. Humans can plan for change and learn how to enhance adaptive capacity. Ecosystems – not so much. Change – both ecological and social – is a constant. Resilience, the abilities to cope with, adapt to, anticipate, and plan for change, is required for a community to survive and thrive. This means choosing to change when it’s advantageous and taking planned action in the face of change.
The problem with a theoretical term like resilience is operationalizing it. How do you know it when you see it? One thing we do know is that local knowledge, experience, understanding, and values are important to the resilience and wellbeing of a community. But measuring resilience is context specific; it’s about the responses of specific people in a specific place to specific changes.
Locally, Baynes Sound is facing complex social-ecological changes ranging from shifting resource usage patterns and emerging environmental issues to rapidly changing demographic profiles and imminent development pressures. Baynes Sound is also the site of dramatically increased shellfish aquaculture development. It now supports 50% of British Columbia’s cultured shellfish. Aquaculture production continues to expand around the world, increasing at an annual rate of 8.3% since 1970 to reach 52.5 million tonnes in 2008. Half of all fish produced come from aquaculture, and continued expansion of the industry is expected. In British Columbia, aquaculture is a relatively new industry that contributes to the provincial economy, yet its cumulative environmental impacts are not well known, nor are the potential ways the industry affects the resilience of the social-ecological systems in which it is embedded. To ensure the ecological, economic, and social sustainability of social-ecological systems, the expanding shellfish aquaculture industry must be better understood. Only limited social science research has been conducted on aquaculture. This new project looks to change that.
A native of Long Island, just offshore of the wilds of New York City, Linda comes to VIU and Baynes Sound from North Carolina, where she completed her graduate studies in ecology at University of North Carolina. Her research interests focus on how cultural and social considerations can contribute to our understanding of coastal and estuarine systems and our efforts to manage and restore them. Her work on oyster restoration along the North Carolina coast asked how perceptions of oysters and oyster restoration efforts in North Carolina differ among stakeholder groups. Her findings suggest that there are many shared aspects in the cultural-ecological models groups use to understand oyster restoration, but there are important differences as well. Her work identified the explicit and implicit cultural-ecological knowledge that different stakeholder groups use, in combination with beliefs and values, to form perspectives and perceptions of oyster management and restoration.