Socio-Ecological Vulnerability Assessment

© JORDI RIERA

Understanding social and ecological vulnerability to climate change is key for MPAs to be able to adapt.

What is?

Vulnerability refers to the degree to which a marine protected area is susceptible to the impacts of climate change (in this case, heat waves and rising sea temperatures) and defines how severe the effects may be.

The socio-ecological vulnerability of the MPA is assessed by calculating a multidimensional index, which takes into account both ecological and social aspects, and is qualitatively expressed as “very high”, “high”, “medium ” or “low”. 

Ecological vulnerability refers to the susceptibility to climate change of the habitats and species that are part of the MPA’s conservation objectives.

Social vulnerability focuses on human activities occurring in the MPA, in accordance with the activities allowed in the area, for example, small-scale fishing, recreational diving, tourism activities, water sports, etc. 

By classifying the vulnerability of species, habitats and users, MPAs can prioritise adaptation responses to address the most urgent impacts of climate change.

What is it good for?

  • understanding ecological and socio-ecological vulnerability,
  • identifying the species at risk and the most vulnerable habitats, 
  • identifying the most vulnerable user groups, 
  • identifying key vulnerability factors that can be improved to reduce vulnerability in the future,  
  • helping in the preparation and design of adaptation strategies and plans.

When? 

This study was carried out in 2020, led by the University of Vigo and with the participation of the MPAs under study. 

Results

Cap de Creus Natural Park

Moderate GHG emissions scenario (RCP4.5) and Intensive GHG emissions scenario (RCP8.5)

CATEGORY

Socio-ecological vulnerability

The socio-ecological vulnerability of Cap de Creus is high for 2050, reaching a very high vulnerability in 2100, both in a moderate scenario in which global GHG reduction agreements are met (RCP 4.5), and in a more intensive scenario if we do not act to reduce GHGs (RCP 8.5).

Cap de Creus RCP4.5 2050

Cap de Creus RCP4.5 2100

Cap de Creus RCP8.5 2050

Cap de Creus RCP8.5 2100

LEGEND: S = Sensitivity, CA = Adaptive Capacity, E = Exposure

Species vulnerability

In general, the vulnerability of Cap de Creus species will increase over time under the moderate (RCP4.5) and intensive (RCP8.5) scenarios of GHG emissions by 2100.

Of all the species analysed, most will reach high vulnerabilities, while coral (Corallium rubrum) and red gorgonia (Paramuricea clavata) will reach extreme vulnerability by the end of the century.

Cap de Creus RCP4.5 2050

Cap de Creus RCP4.5 2100

Cap de Creus RCP8.5 2050

Cap de Creus RCP8.5 2100

Habitat vulnerability

The vulnerability of Cap de Creus habitats increases under both GHG emission scenarios, moderate (RCP 4.5) and intensive (RCP8.5).

Coralligenous and posidonia meadows are the two habitats that will experience a greater level of vulnerability. However, all habitats will reach high or very high vulnerability in the RCP 4.5 and 8.5 scenarios by 2100.

Cap de Creus RCP4.5 2050

Cap de Creus RCP4.5 2100

Cap de Creus RCP8.5 2050

Cap de Creus RCP8.5 2100

The results show that from now on it is necessary to pay attention to the ecosystem management. The improvement of the protection and restoration plans for these specific habitats and species is a need that must be included within MPA priorities.

User vulnerability

The vulnerability of Cap de Creus users varies greatly between sectors, but generally increases under both moderate (RCP 4.5) and intensive (RCP8.5) GHG emission scenarios by 2100.

The results have highlighted an extreme vulnerability value for nautical activities, which appears to be the most affected user group. Professional fishermen and the tourist sector are the next groups at risk, with very high vulnerability.

Cap de Creus RCP4.5 2050

Cap de Creus RCP4.5 2100

Cap de Creus RCP8.5 2050

Cap de Creus RCP8.5 2100

Litoral del Baix Empordà

Moderate GHG emissions scenario (RCP4.5) and Intensive GHG emissions scenario (RCP8.5)

CATEGORY

Socio-ecological vulnerability

The socio-ecological vulnerability of the Litoral del Baix Empordà is high for 2050, reaching a very high vulnerability in 2100, both in a moderate scenario in which global GHG reduction agreements are met (RCP 4.5), and in a more intensive scenario if we do not act to reduce GHGs (RCP 8.5).

Baix Empordà RCP4.5 2050

Baix Empordà RCP4.5 2100

Baix Empordà RCP8.5 2050

Baix Empordà RCP8.5 2100

LEGEND: S = Sensitivity, CA = Adaptive Capacity, E = Exposure

The socio-ecological vulnerability on the Litoral del Baix Empordà shows very high vulnerabilities to face the future impacts of climate change and, therefore, the need to act to reduce the ecological vulnerability of the ecosystem. 

Species vulnerability

In general, the vulnerability of the species of the Litoral del Baix Empordà increases over time. By the end of the century, most species will reach very high or extreme vulnerabilities under the moderate (RCP4.5) and intensive (RCP8.5) GHG emission scenarios.

Of the species analysed, mother-of-pearl (Pinna nobilis), red gorgonia (Paramuricea clavata), dusky grouper (Epinephelus marginatus) and red coral (Corallium rubrum) are those that will reach extreme vulnerability.  

Baix Empordà RCP4.5 2050

Baix Empordà RCP4.5 2100

Baix Empordà RCP8.5 2050

Baix Empordà RCP8.5 2100

Habitat vulnerability

The vulnerability of the habitats of the Litoral del Baix Empordà increases in the long term. All habitats are highly vulnerable and will reach very high and extreme vulnerability by 2100. 

Coralligenous and infralittoral rocky bottoms are the two habitats that will experience a greater level of vulnerability.

Baix Empordà RCP4.5 2050

Baix Empordà RCP4.5 2100

Baix Empordà RCP8.5 2050

Baix Empordà RCP8.5 2100

The results show that ecosystems are highly vulnerable, so there is an urgent need to improve habitats and the species protection and restoration plans, making this a priority for the MPA.

User vulnerability

The vulnerability of users on the Litoral del Baix Empordà increases over time. The tourism sector, professional fishermen and nautical activities have showed very high vulnerability, which indicates the urgent need for better management of all these activities.

Baix Empordà RCP4.5 2050

Baix Empordà RCP4.5 2100

Baix Empordà RCP8.5 2050

Baix Empordà RCP8.5 2100

CONCLUSIONS

The results of the of the vulnerability assessment to the effects of climate change in the Mediterranean Sea reinforce the scientific studies that warn of an imminent danger that must be faced and highlight the need to start working urgently on mitigation and adaptation to climate change. In this sense, Catalonia already declared a “climate emergency” throughout its territory in 2019. 

It is the first time that this vulnerability assessment methodology has been carried out in a marine protected area in Catalonia. In order to improve assessments in the future, it is necessary to have the best possible data quality and, therefore, constant monitoring over time of social, physicochemical and ecological variables.

It will also be necessary to align the results of the vulnerability assessment with the implementation of adaptation strategies in order to become more resilient to the effects of climate change.

© GENERALITAT DE CATALUNYA