Socio-ecological systems & Environmental informatics

📸 Luisa Fontoura

Our team uses environmental modelling tools and informatics to assess the exposure, impacts, and responses of social, environmental, and ecological systems. This includes food security from the perspective of small-scale fisheries and coastal agriculture, water resources in terms of quality and quantity, biodiversity conservation among others. Our team works with communities to assess vulnerability to climate change and explore potential adaptation pathways. Our Work on coral reefs, fisheries, and biodiversity, in general, examines their persistence through climate change and optimal decisions that may facilitate that.

Research Themes

Socio-ecological systems & Environmental informatics

Environmental Policy & Management

Earth Observation

Urban Systems


Increasing socio-ecological resilience to climate change in the Barren Isles through protection and restoration of key ecosystems and diversified livelihoods

The project aims to establish and support effective conservation and management strategies for the Barren Isles’ locally managed marine area (LMMA). An active and trained local management association will oversee governance and Blue Ventures will apply for permanent protected area status as a category VI MPA for the Barren Isles LMMA. The project’s outcome will be improved resilience of climate-relevant ecosystems (coral reefs, sea grass, and mangrove ecosystems) through increased protection and improved management practises. Improved livelihoods, increased financial stability, and access to health care will enable local communities to participate in management of the MPA and adhere to its rules. This will lead to the sustainable use of fisheries, reducing climate change-related risks, and increasing the resilience of vulnerable coastal communities. 

Researchers: Joseph Maina

The impacts of climate change on coral reefs’ connectivity and the implications on marine biodiversity conservation and socioeconomics.

📸 Luisa Fontoura

Protecting ecological connectivity, defined as the dispersal of individuals among suitable patches of habitat and ecological processes to function unimpeded, is considered a cornerstone of biodiversity conservation and the maintenance of sustainable livelihoods. In marine ecosystems, fish larval connectivity enhances fish stock resilience and reduces the risk of extinction. One of the current challenges of developing new biodiversity and sustainability policies is to account for the impacts of environmental changes for the conservation and sustainability benefits expected from marine protected areas (MPAs). New environmental conditions might be energetically costly for many species; higher temperatures, for example, drive declines in body size and fecundity along with increased offspring mortality. Therefore, temperature is likely to affect key processes that are paramount to the maintenance of marine ecosystems, including larval dispersal. Knowledge about larval dispersal, and how it may change with a changing climate can inform biodiversity conservation and the adaptation of human populations which depend on coral reefs for survival. By combining the effects of temperature on a reef fish and in ocean circulation patterns, this project will evaluate the vulnerability of larval dispersal networks and associated conservation outcomes to climate change to improve the delineation and expansion of MPA networks. Find more information here.

Researchers: Luisa Fontoura and Joseph Maina

Vulnerability of Coastal Communities to Climate Change

Climate change vulnerability assessments are essential for coastal communities, particularly those that are highly dependent on coastal resources in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO). These coastal communities are highly vulnerable to the imminent changes in the state of the ecosystem and the capacity of such ecosystems to continue to provide different goods and services. Given this need and urgency, UNEP-Nairobi Convention will undertake climate change vulnerability assessments for representative communities that depend on mangroves and coral reefs in the WIO. This research requires collection and analyses of both socioeconomic and biophysical data. Communities have been chosen in 4 countries to represent the main socioecological typologies in the region. These include poor communities with few opportunities besides resource extraction, and relatively wealthy communities with other and alternative options for subsistence and livelihood. This study will require participation and inputs from local partners and representatives in the WIO, which could also facilitate capacity building of the said participants.

Billfish Interactions, Livelihoods, and Linkages for Fisheries sustainability in the Western Indian Ocean (BILLFISH – WIO) project

📸 Joseph Maina

Large apex predators such as billfish are increasingly becoming vulnerable due to human-induced activities such as fishing. Yet, there exists a dearth of information on their catch dynamics, ecological and socio-economic aspects, and stock structure in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region. This challenge, in turn, impacts the sustainable utilization, conservation, and effective management of billfish across the WIO. This first-ever comprehensive regional study in six countries (Kenya, Tanzania (including Zanzibar), Mozambique, Madagascar, Somalia, and South Africa) aims to:

  1. evaluate the historical and present status of billfish species
  2. explore the socio-economic contribution and governance of billfish
  3. assess the genetic structure of critical species
  4. determine the spatial and temporal distribution of billfish species

Researchers: Joseph Maina

Transboundary governance of species’ refugia under climate change

📸 Vanessa Neo

Climate change is reorganising patterns of bioclimatic envelopes with consequences for biodiversity. As the climate changes, species’ ranges may shift to discrete regions across political borders that could remain relatively buffered from future changes and enable the persistence of valued ecological resources. Clear policy pathways are needed that outline priorities for species traversing these boundaries. This project will deliver innovative measure of climate connectivity that integrates species’ life-history traits, innate dispersal abilities to traverse these connections, and the degree of resistance they may face. It will explore feasible transboundary options to managing moving targets, suggesting new management strategies to policymakers.

Researchers: Ernest Frimpong Asamoah and Joseph Maina

Understanding the role of small scale fisheries in a developing Blue Economy

Researchers: Pascal Thoya and Joseph Maina

About Us

The Spatial Decisions Group is a multi-disciplinary research group based mostly in Macquarie University, Australia. We conduct applied research in collaboration with research institutions, conservation NGOs, development organisations, and governments to help develop solutions for both terrestrial and marine environmental problems in East Africa, the Philippines, and globally.

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