Millions of people today depend primarily on the goods and services offered by coral reefs. The keys aspects of the ecosystem impacted by climate change tends to impact the society too. To understand how climate change will impact human communities, it is important to consider the multiple pathways through which impacts can manifest, especially indirect, direct and bi-directional linkages among distinct components of social-ecological systems
By Siga Tamufor
Social Impacts on Coral Reef Dependent Human Activities
(i.e., Human Migration, Socio-Economic Disparities and Public Health)
According to Hoegh-Guldberg, climate change has rapidly emerged as one of the major long-term threats to coral reefs (Hoegh-Guldberg et al 2007). Various studies have quantified the ecological impacts of disturbance on coral reefs and examined how anticipated increases in ocean temperature, acidity and the increasing frequency of high-intensity storm events will impact coral communities (De’ath et al 2012).
Aside from fisheries impacts, little is known about how climate change may impact coral reef dependent human societies and the major drivers and pathways through which this may operate (Carpenter et al 2009). Millions of people today depend primarily on the goods and services offered by coral reefs. The keys aspects of the ecosystem impacted by climate change tends to impact the society too (Allison et al 2009).
However, climate change may not only interrupt the flow of goods and services to society, but may also alter how people interact with reefs, creating potential pathways from society to ecosystems (Butler and Oluoch-Kosura 2006). To understand how climate change will impact human communities, it is important to consider the multiple pathways through which impacts can manifest, especially indirect and bi-directional linkages among distinct components of social– ecological systems (Cinner et al 2015). The direct impacts of increased Sea Surface Temperature (SST) in tropical oceans can also affect human health. For example, increasing SST can result in increased phytoplankton blooms that are related to incidents of shellfish poisoning (Allison et al 2009) and conditions conducive to cholera outbreaks since the Vibrio cholerae bacterium blossoms in warmer waters (Ceccarelli and Colwell 2014). Microbial outbursts lead to socioeconomic impacts of human health-related incidents like health-related costs, loss of labor productivity, loss of a food source, loss of reef fish sales in both local and international markets, and changes to the social, cultural and traditional characteristics of fishing communities (Rongo and van Woesik 2012). These impacts affect human health directly, but also indirectly through a loss of tourism.
Damage to reefs from storms can also directly affect societal well-being because tourists may stop visiting certain reefs that have experienced severe storm damage, with flow-on effects to tourism-dependent livelihoods (Blythe et al 2013).
The relative importance of different linkages and major impact pathways varies according to the specific climate drivers being considered. For example, sea level rise is likely to only have strong direct impacts on societal well-being but limited direct impacts on reef ecosystems. In contrast, ocean warming will have direct impacts to multiple components of coral reef ecosystems, with flow-on effects to societal well-being.
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