Small-scale Fisheries and Marine Ecosystem Services: Adaptation and Transformation to Secure Human Wellbeing (SGP-HW 017)


Project information

Jeremy Pittman, Assistant Professor, School of the Environment, University of Waterloo, 200 University Ave. W., Waterloo, ON Canada.
Contact: Phone: +1 519 888 4567 ext. 31544
(June 2019 – May 2021). USD 192,179
Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Uruguay

Executive summary Results Investigators Students

Executive Summary

Oceans play a critical role in human wellbeing due to the multiple ecosystem services they provide (e.g., food, livelihoods). Yet the ocean is currently changing due to several anthropogenic drivers, including climate change. These changes will affect the marine ecosystem services upon which we depend, which brings into question the wellbeing of human communities throughout the globe. In maritime places where observed warming has been greater than the global average – referred to here as ‘hotspots’ – the ecosystem services, and human wellbeing derived from these services, are already under threat. Coastal communities, who draw a significant proportion of their livelihoods from small-scale fisheries, are particularly vulnerable to these changes due to their limited capacities and options for adaptation.

Augmenting these adaptive capacities requires multilevel efforts to: (1) ensure national policy and legislation is flexible enough to accommodate change, while supporting livelihood security; (2) align fisheries management decisions with the demands of changing contexts; and (3) develop fisheries practices that are climate-resilient, ecologically-appropriate, and socially-salient. By working with three small-scale fisheries across four countries (Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador) and two ocean warming hotspots, our project will help identify and implement adaptation pathways designed to improve the adaptive capacity of small-scale fisheries and coastal communities. Our research draws on long-established relationships among researchers, practitioners, policy-makers, and resource users in each of our study sites. Through these long-term engagements, we have developed extensive databases of key social-ecological drivers for each focal fishery, which we will augment, analyze, and synthesize throughout the course of our project following a participatory research design.

We will work across diverse disciplinary backgrounds and areas of expertise to: (1) merge and analyze unique, long-term social-ecological datasets to identify observed and expected change; (2) engage stakeholders in participatory exercises aimed to contextualize future scenarios; and (3) co-develop multilevel adaptation pathways to effectively maintain human wellbeing in the face of ecosystem service change.


The work of the research team of this project, is one of the featured stories in the 2ºC: Beyond the Limit Series published by the Washington Post and winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

The story, Dangerous new ocean hot zones are spreading and affecting local fisheries, published by the Washington Post on 11 September 2019, has increased awareness of the vulnerability of coastal communities as a result of warming ocean temperatures.

Coastal communities that depend on small-scale fisheries for their livelihoods are highly vulnerable to warming ocean temperatures due to the devastating decline of local fisheries. IAI researchers are investigating the impacts of ocean warming in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Uruguay and Argentina, as highlighted in the story.

The Washington Post 12-part series focused on a dozen global hotspots around the world to communicate that climate warming is not a distant threat. They estimated that 10% of the earth has already warmed by more than 2º Celsius.


Omar Defeo, Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de la República
Alberto Piola, Departamento Oceanografía, Servicio de Hidrografía Naval
Betina Lomovasky, Instituto de Investigaciones Marinas y Costeras
Mauricio Castrejón, University of Waterloo
Osmar O. Möller Jr., Instituto Oceanográfico, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande