From mangrove to milpa: what determines resilience to extreme weather events in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Geography


Available meteorological records show that the world's weather is becoming more variable and more extreme and that these extremes are becoming more costly in terms of both insured and uninsured losses to infrastructure, crops, housing and natural ecosystems. The relative impact of, and vulnerability to, these events is highest in developing economies. In Mexico the economic cost of extreme events increased 30x between 1980-99 and 2000-2012 and climate change projections indicate that the country will experience more extreme weather, as well as more intense droughts. Within Mexico, the Yucatan peninsula has been identified as being unusually vulnerable to climate change in part because of its low rainfall, high temperatures and frequent tropical storms (including the most intense hurricanes), but also because of the continuing importance of small scale, near subsistence farming and fishing and a high indigenous (Maya) population who are economically disadvantaged. Better understanding of what makes communities, and particular sectors of communities, more or less resilient in the face of extreme weather events will help in the development of effective adaptation strategies at local, regional and national scales in a context of a changing climate. Achieving this means drawing together researchers from a range of disciplinary backgrounds (spanning the natural and social sciences and humanities) to develop a common research methodology. For this research to be relevant and practical in terms of real world problems, it also needs to be developed with input from the potential users and/or beneficiaries of the work. This project brings together a team of experts from UK and Mexican research institutions, all of whom have experience of working in the Yucatan on different aspects of weather and climate (especially drought) but largely with a particular focus (e.g. the role of gender in understanding and coping with extreme weather, ecosystem sensitivity to drought). Here, they will work together and with our existing networks of federal and state government agencies (such as the Secretariat for the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT), the Gender and Environment Network (RGMA), the Secretariat for Urban Development and Environment Yucatan (SEDUMA) and the National Protected Areas Commission (CONANP)) and community groups (e.g U'yool'che a sustainable agriculture collective). This work will be focused on three specific study regions, one on the north coast of the peninsula where hurricanes are a particular problem and two further south, where drought is more of a concern, one where subsistence farming dominates and one where commercial agriculture is more important. These geographically specific studies will be complemented by work to exploit the availability of new, high resolution satellite imagery from the ESA's Sentinel-2 and -3 platforms to track landuse and vegetation change and work on the data available from the region's network of meteorological stations. Taken together these approaches will allow a fuller assessment of which parts of the peninsula are most vulnerable to extreme events and the impacts these have on the natural and managed environment, of what makes communities more or less vulnerable and their strategies for adaptation. The specific goal will be to develop a protocol for determining resilience which will support policy makers and communities in making decisions about how to cope more effectively with the negative impacts of a changing climate on economic development and quality of life through better understanding and improved communication.

Planned Impact

Who might benefit?
The key aim of this proposal is to build capacity to address the additional challenges to development posed by the environmental hazards of droughts and major tropical storms (especially hurricanes), in the context of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. This will be achieved by a) building research capacity and methodologies and b) effective knowledge exchange and translation between academic researchers and public bodies (here primarily agencies of federal and state governments), community groups and other interested third sector parties. The research team already has an extensive network of non-academic partners and collaborators (see Pathways to Impact and letters of support from Project Partners) and these will be the main beneficiaries of this research. In the context of Mexico, it has been recognised that whilst the country has a clearly articulated strategy for climate change mitigation, its adaptation strategies are rather weakly developed, with few in-depth studies of what determines integrated socio-ecological systemic resilience. National and state climate change strategy documents highlight the need to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience, both for the human population and natural ecosystems, but it is less clear how this might be achieved and policies and practice need more examples and better understanding of what determines resilience. At community level, concerns over climatic variability and climatic change are interwoven with a changing economic and social landscape resulting from economic liberalisation, the impact of federal government financial support schemes, migration and internal factors around power and communication, often determined by cultural norms and practices. An appreciation of the local and particular is important if state policies (driven in turn by federal policies) are to be successful in reducing the vulnerability to, and impacts of, climate-related natural hazards. In turn, improving local understanding of the wider 'landscape' of climate risks will be valuable.

How might they benefit?
a) research capacity - this will be built through participation in a collaborative, multi-disciplinary research network. There will be a focus on developing early career researchers; three will be employed on the project, two in Mexico and one in the UK (the named researcher is Mexican national who has been carrying out her PhD in the UK). They will play an important role in defining the project and developing the research protocol which is central to this proposal. Working with government agencies and community groups will benefit all the researchers involved to develop and improve skills of communication and knowledge translation. b) effective knowledge exchange with users/beneficiaries. The co-production of a research methodology to explore climate-impacts resilience will enable more effective strategies to be developed at community, municipal and state level to reduce the negative impacts of extreme weather, which in turn impact on poverty alleviation and development goals, in both the short and longer term. Examples of effective adaptation practices, linked to strategies for more effective communication of risks and improved preparedness will be drawn from the research and shared and discussed with our partner organisations.


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Mardero S (2019) Recent disruptions in the timing and intensity of precipitation in Calakmul, Mexico in Theoretical and Applied Climatology

Description The project successfully led to the development of a new research network across 5 institutions (2 UK, 3 Mexican). We were able to develop new inter-disciplinary ways of working (ranging from anthropology to remote sensing and climatology) to explore perceptions of and responses to extreme weather events (droughts and hurricanes) in selected communities across the Yucatan Peninsula. We have both strengthened existing partnerships with community members and organisations and developed new partnerships within Mexico.
Exploitation Route We are currently working on outputs which will make our findings more widely available. Broader dissemination to the communities who contributed to the project and to potential interested agencies and policy makers will follow. We anticipate that these findings will be of benefit to rural communities in Mexico, specifically in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

Description GCRF Building Resilience additional funding
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2017 
End 10/2017
Description Co-investigator Schmook 
Organisation El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR)
Country Mexico 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-investigators on grant.
Collaborator Contribution Led fieldwork in key communities in Mexico, bringing knowledge, expertise and contacts at community and institutional levels. Contributed to workshop. Contributing to writing up academic papers.
Impact None to date.
Start Year 2016
Description co-investigator Bautista 
Organisation National Autonomous University of Mexico
Country Mexico 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution co-investigators on grant
Collaborator Contribution Knowledge and expertise on Yucatan soils and climate. Participant in workshop. Contributing to writing up academic papers.
Impact None to date.
Start Year 2016
Description co-investigator Munguia Gill 
Organisation Autonomous University of Yucatán
PI Contribution Co-investigators on grant
Collaborator Contribution Field work in communities. Brought knowledge, expertise and contacts at community and institutional levels. Co-organiser of workshop. Contributing to writing outputs.
Impact None so far
Start Year 2016
Description Mobilising Global Voices 2019: Perspectives from the Global South event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This event was sponsored by the AHRC (GCRF) and the International Development Committee of the House of Commons and took place from the 27th February - 1st March 2019. The programme consisted of panel discussions (on the themes of Forced Displacement, Climate Change and Global Inclusion and Diversity within policy-making and research collaboration), a mock select committee in which MPs and members of the commons staff had to answer questions, and a session on Engaging Parliaments with Academic Research. The final session was by invitation only and was attended by two of our Mexico based collaborators (Roger Medina Gonzalez, UADY, and Birgit Schmook, ECOSUR) and the former PDRA on the project (Betsabe de la Barreda). Both the PI (Sarah Metcalfe) and Roger Medina were members of the mock select committee panel.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Risk Communication Pressure Cooker event, Mexico 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Alejandra Perea (UADY, who worked part-time as a member of the From Mangrove to Milpa team) was a member of the core mentor group for the Interdisciplinary Risk Communication Pressure Cooker event 2018, organised by the Water Youth Network and the Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and sponsored by NERC, FM Global and NASA. This work covered the period February to May 2018. The resulting event was held as part of the 2018 Understanding Risk Forum, in Mexico City in May 2018 and was attended by 35 young professionals and researchers, from 13 countries and representing a range of disciplines. It aimed to build the capacity of the participants to work across disciplines under 'pressure' and to co-develop solutions. She participated in the development of the challenge, joining several phone/on line meetings with the main organisers and coordinators of the event to discuss and agree on all the information needed for the case study templates. She developed the case study document for the Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatán case study and her job included: writing about the background characteristics of the area, natural hazard-related disasters in the area, existing risk communication systems and media, data availability, identifying key stakeholders proposing target groups and obtaining data from specific target groups.

For the selection of the target groups, Alejandra interviewed people from Dzilam de Bravo to determine how local people experience risk, what they understand by the term and which risks may result in negative consequences for their livelihoods. This information was used to choose two different target groups for the challenge.

Alejandra's role at the Pressure Cooker Event was to be the case-study specialist for Yucatán. The main role of the case-study specialist during the event was to be available to the teams for short (e.g. 30 minutes) consultations, in 2 to 3 pre-defined time slots during the day. She gave a 15 minute presentation on Dzilam's case study to all the participants. Then, she was around with the two teams working on the Yucatán case answering questions and providing support in the development of their challenges.

From her participation in the pressure cooker event, she was inspired by the motivation and innovative risk communication strategies suggested by the two teams of participants who worked on the Yucatán case study. Therefore, she went to visit the community in June 2018 and interviewed more people. The answers and information gathered from the local people interviewed were similar to answers given before. The everyday risks people consider more important to their livelihoods are: pollution of both land and sea and the conservation of ecosystems, non-regulated fishing of valuable local species of fish, octopus and sea cucumber (no compliance with the legally established ban periods or fishing seasons), and insecurity derived from the many people that come from other communities and cities for the fishing period of the sea cucumber.

She believes that the well thought-out and well written communication strategies that were presented as reports from both teams working on the Yucatán case study, can become follow up projects to take a step further and implement an effective and suitable risk communication strategy in order to address the risks mentioned above. Her suggestion would be to write a project proposal and involve women and active young members of the community who already care and participate in local projects that benefit the reduction of risks in the community (e.g. beach cleanups, mangrove conservation).

The final evaluation report from this meeting is available from the web site given below.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Two day workshop. Day 1 was focused on the academic members of the project team presenting the results of the work to date to members of the communities involved and getting their feedback/comments. The final session was devoted to all participants giving their perspectives on the impacts of drought and hurricanes on aquatic environments (coastal and inland), health, soils and ecosystems. Day 2 was targeted at stakeholders, policy makers and other academics working on aspects of climate change and resilience across the region. This included short presentations derived from those on Day 1 but developed following input from the community representatives. Two community representatives presented the findings of the final session of day 1 and commented on them from their perspectives. There were also presentations from other researchers working on aspects of climate change, impacts and resilience, including governmental and non-governmental organisations . The participants split into groups to discuss: What do people suggest to reduce vulnerabilities? What have people done in different areas (the 3 study areas and Yucatan in general? Who has what data sets and what research findings that might be useful? What needs to be done? Rapporteurs gave feedback on each of these themes. It was clear that a lot of activity was going on, but that this needed to be better integrated; there was a need for information about extreme events, their impacts and possible actions to reduce vulnerability to be made available to the wider public in a clear and easily digestible format; it was agreed that it was a challenge to integrate public policy actions across the different scales from the community, to the municipality and then state levels.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017