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Local Ecological Knowledge as a Pathway to Coastal Resilience, Hazard Mitigation, and Adaptation
  • Kelly Dunning
Kelly Dunning
University of Texas Austin

Corresponding Author:kellyhdunning@utexas.edu

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Local ecological knowledge (LEK) is the experiential knowledge of local people gained through day-to-day interactions with the environment. LEK can provide detailed, real-time information about target species, ecological resources, and rapid state shifts in ecosystems. LEK is becoming more important as a source of data for conservation research and management. LEK can supplement conventional ecological surveys and data by providing rich context and detail on the state of local ecosystems by the people who work on these ecosystems every day as part of their livelihoods (Burbidge et al., 1988, Turvey et al., 2010b). Many communities in the Coastal Bend region of Texas have citizens whose livelihoods depend entirely on ecosystems as well as economies largely dependent on ecotourism. Ecotourism important to Coastal Bend economies includes recreational fishing, coastal parks, birding, and other forms of wildlife tourism. These same communities were majorly impacted by Hurricane Harvey and are continuing to slowly recover one year after the storm. Ecotourism stakeholders possess detailed knowledge on 1) changes to the ecosystem post Harvey across scales, 2) the needs for prioritized ecosystem restoration and conservation initiatives that may quicken ecotourism recovery post-Harvey, and 2) possible blind spots for conservation and resource management of which decision-makers may be unaware. Given the urgency and heavy financial burden of hurricane recovery, LEK can be pathway to resilience. Resilience in the Coastal Bend post-Harvey would see communities, ecosystems, and economies not only recovering quickly to their pre-storm states, but also harnessing the ability to absorb similar shocks in the future. LEK can act as a pathway to resilience during hurricane recovery as it is inexpensive, first-hand, detailed knowledge of changes to ecosystem functions linked to economic development. These changes may be addressed by decision-makers and resource managers looking to enable post-storm recovery. This presentation discusses how ecotourism-dependent communities in the Texas Coastal Bend use LEK to recover from Hurricane Harvey and build resilience to future extreme events as a model framework for how LEK can be used more widely to enhance resilience, respond to hazards, and facilitate adaptation.