Exploring Social and Ecological Resilience in Island Systems

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Photo By Nadav Gazit

By Nadav Gazit, Climate and Society ’13
The concept of social and ecological resilience refers to the ability of a system to absorb, resist, or recover from disturbances and adapt to major change while continuing to maintain critical system functions and benefits. Island systems and their inhabitants, as previous posts in the Earth Institute blog (as well as fellow C+S student Ricarda Dahlheimer’s blog entry) have shown, are especially vulnerable to the environmental stressors that are of global importance today, as well as having to face with social and economical hardships and challenges in a fast-changing world. However daunting these challenges may be, island systems are facing them head-on and prove to be a lesson in adaptation that we can all learn from. As a student of the Earth Institute’s Climate and Society program, I find island systems to be a riveting channel to examine how we, as humans, can learn to live in a sustainable way with our environment. Through my internship at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation (CBC), I am learning how we can do so while maintaining the wonderful aspects of cultural and biological diversity.

This year, the CBC at the American Museum of Natural History is celebrating its 20th anniversary. The CBC was founded with a mission to “mitigate critical threats to global biological and cultural diversity,” and throughout the past two decades has been working towards its mission through several different avenues. These include conducting research and fieldwork in regions such as the Solomon Islands and Palmyra Atoll, hosting conferences and symposia on conservation issues, and creating exhibitions and open source materials for public use and awareness.


Photo By Nadav Gazit

In April 2013, the CBC, with partner organization The Nature Conservancy, hosted the 2013 Milstein Science Symposium: Understanding Ecological and Social Resilience in Island Systems: Informing Policy and Sharing Lessons for Management. The symposium brought together island leaders, local resource managers, scientists and policymakers to discuss and compare their own personal experiences and thoughts on the concept of resilience and how to share information, tools and achievements.

During the symposium, a plethora of different case studies were presented to participants, who also took part in workshops and discussions to help flesh out some of the key issues practitioners are facing today. Following these workshops, participants expressed interest in hearing more details about other island systems facing similar challenges as their own. As a result, the CBC is gathering case studies from around the world. These case studies will be shared online so that they can guide practitioners. As part of my internship, my role is to assist in reaching out to project managers and researchers, as well as conducting interviews and creating a template for the presentation of these case studies online. For example, I recently interviewed a project manager from Tobago about a community-based management program he worked on in Speyside, Tobago. One of the most interesting topics we discussed was the term resilience itself, through his impressions from the symposium and colleagues, or how he viewed it in relation to his own work with the community in Speyside. His story, and the program in Speyside is truly a motivating example of a community that decides to take charge of its environment.

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Photo By Nadav Gazit

Another aspect of my internship at the CBC is working with the Network for Conservation Educators and Practitioners (NCEP). NCEP advances the practice of biodiversity conservation by improving training; since 2001, the program has developed over 140 open access educational modules in eight languages on diverse topics in conservation biology for conservation educators. My work with NCEP includes updating the climate change-related modules (“The Global Carbon Cycle and Climate Change” and “Observed Impacts of Climate Change on Biodiversity”), as well as creating graphics for lesson plans and posters.

This internship has allowed me to further explore issues, challenges and solutions that might matter closer to home than we may think. Consider post-Sandy strategies to increase climate resilience in New York City with Manhattan – an island – at its center. Sea level rise, extreme events and even biodiversity concerns are common threads that make these resilience case studies a powerful tool for us to learn from.

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