Closing cycles

As part of a closing research cycle, we have recently presented a summary of our work developed in Doñana during the past thirteen years at the last ESP European Conference 2018 (San Sebastián, Spain). This is a closing, not an end, with more exciting work underway in collaboration with maverick researchers untiringly trying to change the old ways of doing things. As part of a new path, I also would like to (re)launch this blog and share my knowledge and experiences. More content on social-ecological research and institutional analysis to come soon...meanwhile, I hope that you enjoy this summary poster telling our story in Doñana.

Following the kaizen route

Poster graphic design by enestudiografico.com


Action-research and adaptive management in the Doñana region

Supported by the TRANSAM Project and institutional analysis, I coordinated an action-research program carried out in the Doñana Nature Reserve between 2005-2008, in the context of (and funded by) the Hydro-ecological Restoration Project Doñana 2005 (1998-2006). The latter project, organised by the national authorities within the Reserve, was launched in response to the toxic spill at Los Frailes zinc mines located in Aznalcóllar (Seville, Spain) in April 25 1998, together with the Guadiamar’s Green Corridor project (1998-2002), organised by the regional authorities outside the Reserve. The Doñana 2005 project, aimed at restoring the hydraulic and ecological functioning of the protected marshland and wetlands, which got further deteriorated after years of withstanding intensive economic development in the surrounding region.

Several actors recognised the project as a unique opportunity to introduce new modes of management and succeeded to start a pilot initiative based on adaptive management tenets. This initiative aimed at restoring an expropriated plot of marshland that had been transformed into farmland in the 1960s (“Caracoles” estate, 2600 ha). The adaptive management initiative at Caracoles was based on the recommendations of an external advisory panel of experts prior to the implementation of the restoration (Meffe et al. 2002, unpublished report). The initial design, based on the construction of experimental wetlands, included a short intensive action, coupled with a long-term monitoring plan, which aimed at implementing an alternative solution with the specific goals of ensuring long-term success, fixing adequate baselines (in time and space) as references, and focusing in patterns (e.g., biodiversity) and functions (e.g., productivity).

The consulted panel of experts prescribed adaptive management as an alternative to the more classical approaches traditionally chosen on the ground. Their main aim was to overcome the main challenges, both ecological and institutional, that initially faced the Caracoles estate restoration project, which were not collectively posed upfront. Another goal was to avoid putatively-optimal solutions to ecological restoration (e.g., the identification of an optimal flooding cycle), and provide a strategy for sustained learning about the factors that enhance ecosystem resilience to variation in flooding cycles (e.g., diversification of the marsh spatial structure and wetland connectivity). Finally, a longer-term goal was to extend the knowledge generated through the management of the restored area to the management of the whole marshland/wetland area.

The general purpose of the action-research program was to evaluate its instrumentality for proactively introducing adaptive management tenets at the research-management interface of the Doñana Nature Reserve and broader region. Several methods were used to build trust among stakeholders, to facilitate their involvement in the program, and to produce policy guidance on the improvement of the research-management interface and on the introduction of innovations such as adaptive management. More generally, the program was used to propose improvements in water resources management and wetland conservation in Doñana at a broader geographical, policy and institutional level. This was realised through the involvement of stakeholders from a wide range of institutional and organisational levels, and by broadening the scale and scope of the discussions at the final workshop of the program. Indeed, the program participants agreed on seven key recommendations:

1. The transparent definition of shared management goals and functioning models of the marshland/wetland ecosystems of the Doñana Nature Reserve.

2. The structuring of existing monitoring programs, based on established goals and functioning models, and seeking to optimise coordination among agencies.

3. The incorporation of social research and public participation into policy making and management plans.

4. The definition, within the new Management Plan of the Guadalquivir River Basin, of a specific sub-basin for the wetlands and tributaries of the Doñana Nature Reserve. Such a definition would resolve the contradiction inherent to the declaration of most river branches flowing into or surrounding the Doñana Nature Reserve as highly modified watercourses (therefore free from the obligation of achieving a good ecological status).

5. The continuation and enhancement of the collaborative dynamics that emerged after the Los Frailes mining accident. These dynamics are broadly perceived as a social good, which should be promoted both politically and economically.

6. The improvement of instruments for information exchange and inter-agency goal definition among the Doñana Nature Reserve, the Doñana Biological Station and the Guadalquivir River Authority. Examples include the development of protocols, standards, joint committees, virtual workspaces and corporate databases for mutual support and joint decision making.

7. The stepwise introduction of learning, novelty and innovation into management, based on the transfer of knowledge generated in well-defined pilot projects and programs (Caracoles).

For a detailed description of the program, its context and the institutional analysis carried out for supporting it, please see this article in Ecology and Society or my PhD thesis.


Innovative developments in the management of coastal fisheries in Canada and Spain: from participatory management to adaptive management

Traditional models for the management of high seas fisheries have led, in general, to socio-economic crisis due to various factors such as the overexploitation of the resource, and the lack of flexibility, organizational learning and social participation in decision-making processes within policy making and planning. Scientific-technical management systems have failed to control overfishing, reduce environmental impacts and fully incorporate the scientific recommendations in which they were based.

Despite the diversity of key stakeholders within fisheries management agencies, not all are included in practice nor are able to make collective decisions to ensure long-term economic benefits in a framework for sustainable development and the mutual recognition of certain legitimate interests (although, in many cases, conflicting or very competitive).

These problems are particularly acute in coastal areas where the impact of the overexploitation of coastal fisheries is exacerbated by long histories of exploitation and the interaction with other environmental impacts. In addition, expert support to management faces many challenges, such as the complexity of the natural and social systems. On the other hand small, craft coastal fisheries have certain key advantages for the development of innovative management strategies. We find two clear examples of social participation in Galicia (Spain):

1. The participatory strategy for the management of on foot shellfish fisheries, top-down promoted by the Ministry of Fisheries and Maritime Affairs of the Regional Government ("Xunta de Galicia"), has proved very successful in organising harvesting regimes during the last two decades, in reducing social conflicts, in increasing local revenue and in reducing gender bias in decision-making.

2. The current policy for the creation of Marine Reserves of Fishing Interest, as a management tool aimed at increasing the sustainability of fisheries, which emerged in the artisanal fisheries sector, was bottom-up facilitated by the scientific community and subsequently supported by the Administration.

In British Columbia, the processes of social participation in policy development and management plans for coastal fisheries (primarily salmon) also reached a highly refined development during the 70's, with the development and implementation of adaptive management theory . This management philosophy has being applied during the last three decades, standing as an innovative strategy in many other fields (e.g., in the management of forest resources, ecosystems or nuclear waste).

In this conference-workshop, organised within the framework of the "Understanding Canada" program (through the Canada Foundation), we explored the lessons and mutual synergies between participatory management strategies (Galicia, Spain) and adaptive management (British Columbia, Canada) of coastal fisheries, and the possibilities for using such synergies and lessons in the future, as well as potential opportunities at the institutional level (brochure). More specifically, we aimed to:

1. Develop a comprehensive review of the Galician ('top-down' and 'bottom-up') strategies for coastal fisheries management.

2. Develop an overview of the Canadian experience with adaptive management of coastal fisheries, with an emphasis on salmon fisheries in British Columbia.

3. Gather information about the role of science, stakeholder participation and institutional coordination in the process of policy formation in Canada and Spain, and identify potential synergies that could emerge from the cooperation between both countries.

The conference-workshop, included presentations by David Marmorek, Prudencia Santasmarinas, Juan Freire and Juan M. Blanco Gómez and Miguel Gómez Losada. We hope that you enjoy the above illustrated feature of the conference-workshop (carried out by Manuel Elviro Vidal - Metanarrativas).

Funded by "Understanding Canada" Program (through Canada Foundation)


Evaluation of the Environmental Repercussions of mooring facilities over two special protection sites in Formentera Island

Entrusted by the local environmental authority in this study I led an assessment of the environmental impact of ecological moorings in two locations at Formentera Island with a special conservation status (Ses Illetes beach and Estany d'Es Peix, Mallorca, Spain) as a previous step to a full Environmental Impact Assessment.


TRANSAM Project - Transfer of Adaptive Management

The TRANSAM (Transfer of Adaptive Management) project is a long-term research initiative launched in 2007 and currently ongoing at the Spatial Ecology Group of the Doñana Biological Station. The general aim of TRANSAM is to investigate the causes of the limited transfer of ‘adaptive management’ from Canada to the European Union (EU). Adaptive management constitutes one of the most promising approaches to overcome the current limitations of traditional, command-and-control management and policy making of natural resources and nature conservation, at both the operational and decision-making levels. It is an approach initially conceived and developed by C. J. Walters, R. Hilborn y C. S. Holling at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (Vienna, Austria), during the 1970s and the 1980s. The aim was to create a robust tool for the management of natural resources while keeping a continuous interaction among stakeholders.

Since its inception, adaptive management has been applied to a wide range of natural resources management and nature conservation problems worldwide, mainly in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand and, more recently, in some countries of the European Union. This has provided an accumulating body of knowledge that present it as a valid alternative to command-and-control, which may be considered instrumental for achieving sustainable resource use. However, after 40 years of development and (often) successful implementation in Canada, until the current decade it received limited attention in Europe – and even less in Southern Europe. The limited implementation of adaptive management in Europe contrast vividly with its widespread use in the Anglo-Saxon world (Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand), bringing up questions on whether there are specific institutional, technical, scientific or even cultural traits of the societies across the Atlantic divide that prevent the dissemination of these seminal ideas.

The objectives of the TRANSAM project are:

-To document the Canadian experience with adaptive management, with an emphasis on British Columbia.

- To assess a series of case studies in which particular institutional developments allowed for the implementation of adaptive management initiatives for natural resources management and nature conservation.

- To develop a deep understanding of both the concept and the associated process of stakeholder involvement, in order to inform and provide support for an action-research program developed in the Doñana region between 2005 and 2008 (see above).

Read our technical publication.


Water management uncertainties in the Guadalquivir estuary

In this workshop we used an approach where water managers developed criteria of relevance to understand and address uncertainties. The empirical research took place in the Guadalquivir estuary (SW Spain) making use of the method of card sorting. Through the card sorting exercise a broad range of criteria to make sense of and describe uncertainties was produced by different subgroups, which were then merged into a shared list of criteria. That way framing differences were made explicit and communication on uncertainty and on framing differences was enhanced. In that, the present approach constitutes a first step to enabling reframing and overcoming framing differences, which are important features on the way to robust decision-making. Moreover, the elaborated criteria build a basis for the development of more structured approaches to deal with uncertainties in water management practice.

The results of the workshop were published here. A more technical report is available here.


Habitat suitability study for the Bewick's swan during its wintering stage in the Netherlands

This habitat suitability study for the Bewick's swan (Cygnus columbianus bewickii ssp.) in the Netherlands was my first research work. It gave rise to a lifelong passion about science and discovering hidden social-ecological patterns and dynamics. In this study, I analysed the influence of certain factors that could be potentially determining the spatial distribution of the Bewick’s swan over its wintering grounds in the Netherlands.
Winter is coming

In particular, the project aimed at an identification of the main agricultural environments used by the swan as feeding grounds, after food depletion in their main aquatic habitats. For that purpose, I selected land used for sugar beet crops and grasslands, which were their main food sources during the whole winter season, and presence of livestock, as potential predictor variables. Population distribution information was extracted from a long-term dataset collaboratively developed during almost two decades by scientists and birdwatchers using more than 375 marked individuals. Besides the ring code, information included site’s name and code, date, observer’s name and code, and, occasionally, extra details about habitat and food choice, social status and flock-size. Information about the bird's location was recorded using GPS.

The population’s distribution information was linked to the agricultural and livestock variables (surfaces per municipality and heads of livestock per municipality, respectively) with the aid of GIS tools. Thereafter, I performed a multiple regression analysis that showed that surfaces of sugar beet crops and grasslands had independent significant contributions towards explaining the variation of the distribution. The study was performed as a general approach due to time constraints, but served as a robust guideline for more detailed spatial analyses in the future. A relevant conclusion of the study was that land and water management plans must include studies concerning the spatial requirements of migratory water birds that currently use agricultural habitats at any stage of their annual cycle.