Resilience of a giant clam subsistence fishery in Kiribati to climate change

Changes in sea surface temperature have historically impacted the habitat of giant clams in Kiribati. In many islands of Kiribati, the four species of giant clam have largely withstood these environmental changes, through adaptive responses to anthropogenic pressures. The Kiribati giant clam fishery is a data-limited multi-species fishery, so in adopting and applying a comprehensive resilience framework to highlight attributes conferring and limiting resilience across the ecological, governance, and socio-economic aspects of the fishery we used knowledge co-production and the precautionary principle approach to better inform place-based attempts to operationalise resilience measures. We found that the resilience of the fishery to marine heatwaves and ocean acidification, as highlighted by local stakeholders, will depend on the ability of fisheries stakeholders to act collectively, with flexibility, to implement adaptive governance. Climate change, coupled with human impacts, have reduced ecological resilience in the urbanised island of South Tarawa, in contrast to the more remote or sparsely populated islands. In South Tarawa, governance and social processes are less flexible, leading to declines in the local subsistence clam fishery. Conversely, on several remote outer islands, where the social-ecological system has shown promise in combating these anthropogenic influences (e.g., through adaptive community-based fisheries management), the ecological resilience has improved, and the subsistence clam fishery has persisted. Our case study demonstrates the importance of a participatory approach and local knowledge when assessing climate resilience and identifies pathways of resilience in other small-scale fisheries, especially when data are limited.

Eurich J., Tekiau A., Seto K., Aram E., Beiateuea T., Golden C., Rabwere B. & McCauley D., in press. Resilience of a giant clam subsistence fishery in Kiribati to climate change. Pacific Conservation Biology. Article (subscription required).

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