Cumulative and synergistic impacts from environmental pressures, particularly in low-lying tropical coastal regions, present challenges for the governance of ecosystems which provide natural resource-based livelihoods for communities. Here, we seek to understand the relationship between responses to the impacts of El Niño and La Niña events and the vulnerability of mangrove-dependent communities in the Caribbean region of Colombia. Using two case study sites, we show how communities are impacted by, and undertake reactive short-term responses to, El Niño and La Niña events, and how such responses can affect their adaptive capacity to progressive environmental deterioration. We show that certain coping measures to climate variability currently deliver maladaptive outcomes, resulting in circumstances that could contribute to system ‘lock-in’ and engender undesirable ecological states, exacerbating future livelihood vulnerabilities. We highlight the significant role of social barriers on vulnerabilities within the region, including perceptions of state abandonment, mistrust and conflicts with authorities. Opportunities to reduce vulnerability include enhancing the communities’ capacity to adopt more positive and preventative responses based on demonstrable experiential learning capacity. However, these will require close cooperation between formal and informal organisations at different levels, and the development of shared coherent adaptation strategies to manage the complexity of multiple interacting environmental and climatic pressures.
Bibliographical note© The Author(s) 2021
- adaptative capacity
- environmental risk
- socio-ecological resilience
- coastal management