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Integrating Policies on Land Use Changes and Coastal Zone Management to Deliver Food Security and Environmental Conservation

Integrating Policies on Land Use Changes and Coastal Zone Management to Deliver Food Security and Environmental Conservation

Principal Investigator: Professor Susan Baker, Cardiff University

Where land meets the ocean, disturbance to cross-boundary environmental processes can have considerable impacts either side of this boundary. Quintana Roo, Mexico, where our project is focussed, is no exception. Accelerating urban and tourism development, as well as agricultural and forestry practices, are influencing the quality of water infiltrating porous limestone on its path to the region’s many underwater rivers. This polluted water flows directly into coastal mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, and coral reefs, extensively degrading these habitats in many localities. With no enforcement or reform of land use and water policy, these habitats will not recover. Still healthy ones will likely also degrade. In a region where people have a close relationship to seafood, and where close to 35% of the rapidly growing population rely on marine tourism for their livelihoods, the social and ecological consequences of marine degradation are profound.

We are researching the extent to which it is possible to incorporate sea- and land-borne impacts in coastal zone management by examining ways to reconcile land-use policies, land-use change, coastal zone food security, and marine conservation. Our goal is to propose ways in which land use policy and coastal zone management can be integrated to improve the livelihoods of the local population in Quintana Roo. Local policy-makers will be able to reference our proposals in taking action to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially those: (i) promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth; (ii) ensuring sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems; and (iii) conserving and sustainably using the oceans.

To this end, we have already held two workshops in the settlements of Tulum and Bacalar in Quintana Roo, bringing together over 35 stakeholders working in the seaward tourism, marine conservation, and seafood sectors, in addition to stakeholders from the agriculture and forestry sectors. Attendees also included local government officials overseeing municipalities that had lengthy coastlines and extensive forested areas. Each workshop produced very positive results, with participants engaging enthusiastically with both the subject of our project and the workshop programme. Over a series of facilitated exercises and open discussions they listed key concerns in relation to their local environment and discussed challenges faced in promoting socioeconomic, and cultural sustainability. These included increased solid waste in the towns and cities of Cancun, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Bacalar, and Chetumal, alongside habitat removal of mangrove forests, coastal dunes and seagrass as part of hotel construction along the beaches of the Riviera Maya. Yet, overwhelmingly, the conversation was taken up by the topic of water, and the fact that only 30% of regional effluent goes through secondary treatment before it enters the watershed and the ocean. Water governance is clearly going to be a central consideration of our project.

Our research team comprises social, environmental, and ecological researchers, as well as professionals working in civil society organisations, from Mexico, the UK, and Sweden. We held our first planning meeting in Tulum, Quintana Roo in March 2017. Over the next year, we will be conducting interviews, workshops, and household surveys with officials and institutional leaders across Quintana Roo, but also with users of the land (e.g., farmers, forestry workers) and sea (e.g., fishers, SCUBA dive professionals), looking at how policies are shaped, and livelihoods and governance systems connected. We will also be referencing local ecological records and conducting our own monitoring of some coastal habitats. Outputs from the project will include the development of a framework to support improved communication between and integration of different sectors and actors in the decision-making process regarding land use and coastal zone management. 

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