Climate Change and Adaptation to Social-Ecological Change: The Case of Indigenous People and Culture-Based Fisheries in Sri Lanka

  • Citation: Galappaththi, Eranga K., James D. Ford, and Elena M. Bennett. “Climate Change and Adaptation to Social-Ecological Change: the Case of Indigenous People and Culture-Based Fisheries in Sri Lanka.” Climactic Change, 2020, 279–300.
    • Topics:
    • Country and Regional Studies
    • Keywords:
    • Sri Lanka
    • indigenous people
    • climate change
    • fisheries
    • local communities

Rural coastal fishery systems in tropical island nations are undergoing rapid change. Using a case study from eastern Sri Lanka, this paper examines the ways in which indigenous Coastal-Vedda fishers experience and respond to such change. We conducted semi-structured interviews (n = 74), focus group discussions (n = 17, 98 participants), and key informant interviews (n = 38) over a 2-year period (2016–2019). The changes that most Coastal-Vedda fishers experience are disturbance from Sri Lankan ethnic war, changes in climate and the frequency and severity of natural disasters, increased frequency of human-elephant conflicts, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, and transformation of the Coastal-Vedda due to social modernisation. We used a resilience-based conceptual framework focusing on place, human agency, collective action and collaboration, institutions, indigenous and local knowledge systems, and learning to examine fishers’ responses to rapid changes. We identified three community-level adaptive strategies used by the Coastal-Vedda: adaptive institutions with a multi-level institutional structure that facilitates collective action and collaboration, the use of culture-based fisheries (CBF), and diversification of livelihoods. We also recognized four place-specific attributes that shaped community adaptations: cultural identity and worldviews, co-management of CBF, flexibility in choosing adaptive options, and indigenous and local knowledge systems and learning. These adaptive strategies and place-specific attributes provide new insights for scientists, policymakers, and communities in the region, enabling them to more effectively work together to support community adaptation.

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