What conservation strategies support the adaptive capacity of coastal ecosystems in three island states facing a changing climate in Micronesia?

Coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds, are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The degradation and loss of these ecosystems, stemming from the increased impacts of climate change-related drivers, threaten the well-being of island communities in Micronesia, as they are very reliant on and connected with these coastal ecosystems. Supporting the adaptive capacity of ecosystems through climate adaptive conservation, and thus better equipping them to recover from and adapt to the potential impacts, in turn reduces the vulnerability of the social-ecological system. This thesis identified five main climate change-related drivers that impact coastal systems across three selected states in Micronesia. First, based on a conceptual social-ecological systems (SES) framework, a literature review and analysis were conducted to identify and select three ecosystem adaptive capacity (AC) elements: Heterogeneity, connectivity, and ecosystem functioning. Building on that, second, a literature review aided the identification of climate adaptive conservation strategies and related actions that can support the adaptive capacity of ecosystems. Following a qualitative content analysis, eight climate adaptive conservation strategies and 26 activities were selected and categorized. Third, the extent of (1) the strategy effectiveness, (2) their integration in conservation policy and planning documents, and (3) their implementation on a national scale were evaluated through a semi-quantitative expert consultation in each of the selected states, exemplified with coral reefs.

The findings from this research showed that while the climate adaptive strategies and activities were considered effective in supporting the adaptive capacity of coral reefs in Micronesia, the extent of their implementation ranked low. Strategies, such as “Addressing non-climatic drivers” were considered highly effective, however their implementation fell comparably short. Contrary, targeting heterogeneity was considered of least importance. Thus, as their regional implementation ranked low, the ability of the strategies to support coral adaptive capacity was limited for all three countries. Particularly, the upscaling and mainstreaming of these strategies was considered crucial by the experts. Therefore, this research proposed to prioritize addressing non-climatic drivers, supporting coral reef restoration, and recommended to integrate communities in the design of climate adaptive conservation. Further to apply actionable co-produced science to advance the evidence base and applicability of the strategies in supporting ecosystem AC.

Lenz M.-E., 2023. What conservation strategies support the adaptive capacity of coastal ecosystems in three island states facing a changing climate in Micronesia? MSc thesis, United Nations University & University of Bonn, 179 p. Thesis.

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