Coral reefs and human nutrition in the South Pacific

In September 2018, we received funding from NSF to study reef-based food systems representing coupled social-ecological systems. This project will last four years and is a perfect opportunity for student involvement.

Project description: As governance structures link human systems to natural systems, we will evaluate whether the support of local institutions and fisheries management can lead to better coastal governance, thereby rehabilitating coral and reef-based fisheries and maintaining access to seafood. In essence, can making coral reefs healthy keep local people healthy through improving access to seafood? To accomplish this, we will take advantage of a rare opportunity to dovetail our research efforts with a scheduled nationally representative government survey through a partnership with the Government of Kiribati and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). We will align our data collection to produce detailed ecological, governance, socio-economic, and health data. Our research offers a unique quasi-experimental design to study roughly independent and isolated yet culturally similar sites along a gradient of reef health, market access, and fisheries management strategies. This rich data set will allow us to answer pressing questions about the thresholds for reef transitions, the feedbacks between the diversity and abundance of reef-based fisheries and fisheries activities, management, and consumption. Clinical health measurements will be collected to understand how dietary shifts, mediated by livelihood changes and market access and integration, lead to various forms of malnutrition, including obesity and diabetes. We will then use the data from each of these components to study the social-ecological trap thresholds and dynamics using systems modeling.