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Poverty and Reefs

2.5 Summary

For the casual observer, the reef provides a limited number of benefits to regular users linked into resource extraction, mainly fisheries. In reality the benefit flows are much more complex and affect different groups of people in many different ways. Not only do they provide a range of benefits in terms of the resources that reef-dependent people use directly in their livelihoods, the reef can also affect the interaction between reef-dependent people, their resources and the factors that control how they access and use those resources. In addition, reefs help people cope with, and adapt to, the wider changes that affect their lives whether they be regular seasonal changes, longer-term trends, or periodic shocks and stresses.

These benefit flows help reef-dependent people develop a range of livelihood strategies, and the diversity of those strategies reflects the diversity of type and form of the benefits that flow from the reef ecosystem. Some people are able to develop strategies that make full-time regular use of the reef or its resources, others can use the reef as a crucial safety net in difficult times. Others use the reef as a keystone resource that they tap into at certain times of the year when other resources are not available to them. The diversity of stakeholders, outlined in Chapter 1, Section 1.3, also affects the diversity of reef-related livelihood strategies. Their use of the benefit flows are not just for subsistence, income or food security; the reef provides a much stronger platform for social and cultural development which is not always considered in economic analyses of the reef.

In some situations the reef provides the very means to keep many people out of poverty and so it often appears that reef-dependent communities are not as badly off as some of their neighbours, whose strategies are mainly land-based. In the Pacific, for instance, many reef-dependent communities seem idyllic but there is a growing level of vulnerability amongst these communities that threatens to undo much of the work that has been achieved through the wider development process. In almost all reef-dependent communities the benefit flows that the reefs provide are under threat and the livelihoods of some of the poorest people are being seriously undermined. In the near future many of those who have been helped above the poverty line will start to slip back below it unless there are radical changes in the way reefs and reef-dependent communities are viewed and worked with.

The changes affecting reefs and reef-dependent communities, and their consequences, are discussed in the next Chapter.
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