Building social resilience to environmental change in marginalised coastal communities

Lead Research Organisation: Scottish Association For Marine Science
Department Name: Contracts Office


This project lays the groundwork for interdisciplinary collaboration on building social resilience in marginalised coastal communities. Seas and coasts can make a significant contribution to building a more sustainable society through, for example, low-carbon energy, resource provision and disaster risk reduction. At the same time, however, coastal communities may be more vulnerable to climate change risks or to negative effects from new offshore and coastal developments. In line with Sustainable Development Goal 14, there is hence a need to more fully understand how to manage society's relation with the sea in a way that benefits those who are most directly connected to the sea.

This proposal therefore takes two countries with a strong social, cultural and economic connection to the sea - Scotland and Japan - and connects researchers working in the common direction of understanding and governing environmental change in seas and coasts. The overall objective of the project is to clarify how different disciplinary backgrounds - environmental sociology, geography, marine law, coastal zone management, environmental science communication, and marine science for environmental assessment - can work together to more effectively understand how environmental change affects coastal communities, and connect these findings with legal and environmental assessment and monitoring processes. The intended outcome is a conceptual and methodological framework, which will form the basis of subsequent larger funding proposals and more extensive empirical research.

Key to attaining this objective is the development of initial links established by PI Mabon and Japanese Co-PI Kawabe with coastal communities in both Japan and Scotland. Specifically, Minamisoma in Fukushima Prefecture and Tomakomai in Hokkaido in Japan; and Orkney and Aberdeenshire in Scotland. In the project, these will be used as cast study areas for site visits, allowing project researchers to understand what kind of research would be feasible in follow-on funding and crucially allowing opportunity for interaction with local stakeholders to co-create new research questions ahead of more extensive research. This will be achieved through bilateral visits, and also through a longer-term academic visit between RGU and TUMSAT which emphasises development of early-career researchers and building of links with non-academic partners.

Significant emphasis is placed on involvement and development of early-career researchers able to take an interdisciplinary approach to resilience in coastal communities. To this end, one early-career researcher from each country is included as a Co-Investigator, and budget is requested to allow a small number of additional ECRs to join the site visits and workshops during each bilateral visit.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this activity?

The following groups are envisioned as benefitting from this activity: (a) academics and researchers working on issues related to resilience in coastal contexts - not just from a natural science perspective but also from the natural sciences (see 'Academic Beneficiaries' above); (b) local governments and civil society groups working at the local level to manage the social effects of environmental change (e.g. community groups, non-governmental organisations); (c) practitioners (e.g. industry organisations, developers) looking to build consent and social licence to implement low-carbon/sustainable developments in coasts and seas.

How will they benefit from this activity?

Academics will benefit - as outlined in the 'Academic Beneficiaries' section - from the contributions made to scholarly exchange through development of a conceptual framework, and from opportunities to participate in follow-on projects expanding beyond the core team developed during this project. Local governments and civil society will benefit from the opportunity to engage with researchers right at the outset of the problem formation stage, ensuring research questions and outputs from subsequent research are able to address local requirements. Practitioners will benefit from an understanding of how societal concerns can be better addressed within environmental assessment processes, so as to be able to tailor communication and monitoring requirements to address citizen and stakeholder concerns.

What will be done to ensure that they have the opportunity to benefit from this activity?

As outlined in 'Academic Beneficiaries', opportunities for benefit to academics and researchers will come through: (a) peer-reviewed publication, made open-access through RGU's OpenAIR repository; (b) shorter outputs (e.g. site visit reports) posted on PI Mabon's research blog (; and (c) engagement in outputs and subsequent research needs at key conferences. In this regard, to go beyond one-way communication and actively engage the wider research community in subsequent research on coastal resilience involving the UK and Japan (and beyond), it is proposed to host an afternoon workshop at the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland to coincide with RGU joining the MASTS alliance.

Benefit to local government and civil society will come through face-to-face meetings during project field visits. These will take the form of facilitated workshops, during which the project research team will learn about the local situation through discussion with relevant stakeholders, then work together to elaborate information needs and research questions. The conditions for allowing such dialogue to happen will be created by drawing on links already established during initial collaboration between the investigators and the locals, e.g. with Minamisoma City Government via TUMSAT and with Orkney Islands via RGU's Orkney Project.

Benefit to practitioners will be realised in the first instance through the involvement of two practitioner-academics (Kita and Onchi) within the research team. As marine scientists undertaking environmental impact assessments themselves, participation in the project will develop connections and insights as to how assessments may be tailored to best benefit communities and stakeholders. There will also be opportunities for face-to-face briefing sessions with regulators and developer groups (e.g. Engineering Advancement Association of Japan; Japan Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology; Marine Scotland) which can be built in to existing ongoing work Co-PIs Mabon and Kawabe have with these organisations.

Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/S013296/1 01/01/2019 31/10/2019 £50,304
ES/S013296/2 Transfer ES/S013296/1 01/12/2019 31/07/2021 £39,090