Sustainable development and resilience of UK coastal communities

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


The climate and ecological emergencies, Brexit and Covid-19 illustrate the enormity of change and disturbance currently impacting coastal communities in the UK, and the urgency of building resilience to accelerating, multi-faceted and new forms of risk. Our research aims to build the knowledge and know-how to enhance the resilience of marine resource-users to environmental, regulatory and socio-cultural change, while simultaneously improving their wellbeing and reducing adverse impacts on the marine environment.

Marine investment, policy and management decisions are often understood as prioritisation decisions ("this or that"), but they can also involve system interactions and trade-offs, and so create winners and losers. Trade-off conflicts manifest in policy consultation, planning and licensing decisions, and in the everyday behaviours of resource-users choosing to support (or not) particular interventions. There is, therefore, increasing impetus to be explicit about trade-offs where they can explain the political acceptability, effectiveness and durability of marine plans, fisheries regulations, protected area designations or offshore wind farms. To date, research has focused on ecological trade-offs or social-ecological trade-offs related to tensions between environmental sustainability and human welfare and wellbeing, with little attention to resilience. Yet, emerging research shows trade-offs between resilience and wellbeing, and between resilience and sustainability with important implications for marine policy and practice.

Our research will be the first to develop a nexus perspective on resilience, wellbeing and sustainability to acknowledge that any solution for one objective must equally consider the other two in the nexus. We apply the nexus perspective to on-the-ground and policy interventions to systematically evaluate synergies and trade-offs among resilience, wellbeing and sustainability across scales and sectors, and to identify opportunities to improve these outcomes together. We address the three call themes by:

THEME 1: Investigating how diverse marine resource-users respond to varied disturbance events, how their resilience intersects with their wellbeing and engagement with sustainability, and what they VALUE as important for maintaining and improving nexus outcomes.

THEME 2: Applying the nexus perspective to the policy context to understand how diverse values and nexus dynamics are traded off in decision-making currently. Working closely with policy and industry stakeholders we will develop a DECISION-SUPPORT FRAMEWORK to interrogate the acceptability of trade-off decisions within and across marine sectors.

THEME 3: Applying the nexus perspective to on-the-ground INTERVENTIONS to assess how initiatives intend to improve resilience, wellbeing and/or sustainability, and currently deal with trade-offs across the nexus. Working closely with practitioners, we will identify opportunities to improve future iterations of these interventions so they can better deliver triple benefits across the nexus.

Project deliverables include: a new nexus perspective; a low-tech trade-off decision-support framework for use by policy-makers and implementers, and; evidence that applying a nexus perspective can improve both policy and on-the-ground interventions in marine social-ecological systems in the UK across the domains of marine heritage, sustainable development of communities, and marine environmental regulation.

This research will be world leading and of international importance. The resilience of people, communities and ecosystems underpins global action to sustainably manage aquatic ecosystems (SDG14), respond to climate change (SDG13), and deliver enduring improvements in wellbeing (SDG1+2). Our research addresses a significant gap in knowledge of how nexus dynamics play out across scales that will be fundamental to successful delivery of these Sustainable Development Goals.


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Title Marine Planning Trade-off Analysis (MaPTA) Tool 
Description Marine Planning Trade-off Analysis (MaPTA) is a tool designed to lead you on a step-by-step journey to identify the trade-offs arising from management interventions. It will help you to assess and decide the extent to which trade-offs are acceptable, or unacceptable, to different stakeholders. It will also encourage you to identify response options for mitigating, compensating for, or avoiding potentially harmful and unacceptable outcomes 
Type Of Material Technology assay or reagent 
Year Produced 2022 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The tool has been pilotted in Palawan, Philippines: Participants reported: "Thought differently from beyond what I normally think, I don't think I have experienced a technique that has made me think this way." We have been approached by Flora and Fauna International, an NGO, about the possibility of piloting the tool with some of their upcoming marine projects. 
Description Pilot of Marine Planning Trade-off Analysis (MaPTA) tool 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A new Marine Planning Trade-off Analysis tool has been developed as part of the Blue Communities programme. This is online process that was pilotted with the Western Philippines University in March 2022. The pilot was facilitated remotely over two morning sessions, during which participants were trained in the tool so that they could use it in their future work. Feedback was also provided by the participates on the usability and clarity o the tool, which fed into making improvements to it.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Recruitment of and engagement with a Project Steering Group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Engagement by representatives from DEFRA, Marine Scotland, Natural England and Marine Industry in the project objectives, with specific input into how to align some key concepts - notably sustainability - with current approaches in policy.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022