Social-ecological responses to changes in a coastal wetland of Colombia

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Social-ecological responses to changes in a coastal wetland of Colombia


Sandra Vilardy, Jose A. Gonzalez & Carlos Montes

Universidad Autonoma de Madrid - Universidad del Magdalena


Image:cienaga 107wiki.jpg

Photo: Berta Martin-Lopez. Fishermans and mangroves in Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta

The Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta (CGSM) is the most important wetlands complex in the Caribbean coast of Colombia. Throughout its history, and particularly during the second half of the twentieth century, the CGSM has been severely affected by different human activities. This produced deep changes on the structure and functioning of ecosystems, leading to disruptions in their capacity to provide ecosystem services essential for the well-being of local inhabitants.

In order to understand trends of change in the CGSM, we analysed its social and ecological history under the resilience theory framework. In doing so, we reviewed social and ecological literature about the area, and examined various aspects concerning past changes in management models and the effects of human activities on key elements of the system (i.e. mangrove extraction and fishing).

We found that (1) regional and local development policies were inadequate, (2) national institutions exerted a poor control over the use of natural resources, and (3) adaptive responses of institutions, from the local to the national level, were not carried out efficiently; all of which generated a gradual loss of social-ecological resilience.

The analysis of social institutions showed that responses to changes were characterized by important scale mismatches. On one hand, local institutions responded basically to changes in provisioning services, generating fast adaptive responses based on traditional ecological knowledge. On the other hand, national institutions responded mainly to changes in cultural services, developing management practices often based on non-integrative and sectorial approaches.

Finally, the loss of social-ecological resilience induced by anthropogenic activities (e.g. building of new infrastructures, mangrove extraction, damaging fishing techniques) has lead to an important transformation of the system towards a less-desirable state, triggering a deep environmental and social crisis that began in the early 80´s and still persists nowadays.

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