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Climate change and adaptation to social-ecological change: the case of indigenous people and culture-based fisheries in Sri Lanka

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Abstract

Rural coastal fishery systems in tropical island nations are undergoing rapid change. Using a case study from eastern Sri Lanka, this paper examines the ways in which indigenous Coastal-Vedda fishers experience and respond to such change. We conducted semi-structured interviews (n = 74), focus group discussions (n = 17, 98 participants), and key informant interviews (n = 38) over a 2-year period (2016–2019). The changes that most Coastal-Vedda fishers experience are disturbance from Sri Lankan ethnic war, changes in climate and the frequency and severity of natural disasters, increased frequency of human-elephant conflicts, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, and transformation of the Coastal-Vedda due to social modernisation. We used a resilience-based conceptual framework focusing on place, human agency, collective action and collaboration, institutions, indigenous and local knowledge systems, and learning to examine fishers’ responses to rapid changes. We identified three community-level adaptive strategies used by the Coastal-Vedda: adaptive institutions with a multi-level institutional structure that facilitates collective action and collaboration, the use of culture-based fisheries (CBF), and diversification of livelihoods. We also recognized four place-specific attributes that shaped community adaptations: cultural identity and worldviews, co-management of CBF, flexibility in choosing adaptive options, and indigenous and local knowledge systems and learning. These adaptive strategies and place-specific attributes provide new insights for scientists, policymakers, and communities in the region, enabling them to more effectively work together to support community adaptation.

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Notes

  1. CBF are essentially a form of extensive aquaculture, or a farming practice, conducted in small water bodies (generally less than 100 ha). These water bodies would not be able to support a capture fishery due to a lack of adequate natural recruitment of suitable species. Artificial water bodies, not built for fishery/aquaculture purposes (such as village tanks) but often built for irrigation purposes, can be used (De Silva et al. 2006: 11).

  2. Wanniya-laeto is the plural term and Wanniya-laeta (masculine) or Wanniya-laeti (feminine) is the singular term.

  3. Vedda is the singular term and Veddas is the plural.

  4. Coastal-Vedda refer to themselves as Muhudu-Vedda, meaning Wanniya-laeto of the coast. The term Coastal-Vedda is the standard translation of Muhudu-Vedda.

  5. Eastern Sri Lanka used to be a Tamil-dominated area but presently Muslim populations are becoming more dominant in terms of population growth and culture, including building architecture.

  6. Most of the reservoirs used for CBF/aquaculture are minor-non-perennial reservoirs (50–200 ha at full water supply level) in Sri Lanka.

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Galappaththi, E.K., Ford, J.D. & Bennett, E.M. Climate change and adaptation to social-ecological change: the case of indigenous people and culture-based fisheries in Sri Lanka. Climatic Change 162, 279–300 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-020-02716-3

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