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Sara Curran, Anuradha Kumar, Wolfgang Lutz and Meryl Williams

Interactions between Coastal and Marine


Ecosystems and Human Population Systems:
Perspectives on How Consumption Mediates
this Interaction

DILEMMAS OF POPULATION, ENVIRONMENT AND der to make the research useful in conserving the environment
SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT and improving the quality of life of the people who depend on
In the 1980s and 1990s, there was widespread belief among en- it.
vironmentalists and lay people that uncontrolled population One strategy to overcome the complexities of understanding
growth was responsible for environmental degradation of all links among human population systems, ecosystems, and con-
types. This neo-Malthusian belief originally surfaced in the pub- sumption is to focus on one set of dynamics on each end of
lication of The Population Bomb by Ehrlich and Ehrlich in the the equation, and vary some of the mediating factors and the
late 1960s, which interpreted the unprecedented high growth rate contexts within which they interact. It is to this end that The
experienced in that decade in an alarmist tone (1–3). In ensuing MacArthur Foundation’s 6-year funding program was directed.
years this belief, combined with work on carrying capacity and Through funding a variety of case studies that focused on mi-
a growing environmental movement, led to the seemingly gration (as one key component of population dynamics), and
commonsense conclusion that high growth, and high fertility in coastal or marine ecosystems, the program planned an approach
particular, are destructive for the environment. The rhetoric of- to understanding the dilemmas of population, environment, and
ten is shrill (see various Worldwatch Institute publications in the consumption and enable future research and policy directions.
1990s), and extends beyond academia and the NGO sectors (4). Coastal ecosystems were selected for a variety of reasons. The
Scientific research, however, has not shown a definitive link Rio Conference in 1992 drew special attention to them. They
between population growth or size and environmental decline. are of particular interest because a growing proportion of the
A growing body of work indicates that neo-Malthusian assump- world’s population lives near a coast (14–16), although mostly
tions about environmental change may be misleading (5). Nu- in cities. Over the next century global warming threatens to im-
merous critics have pointed out that consumption of resources pose dramatic constraints on land use as world sea levels rise
by citizens of the global North is at least as important in explain- (14, 17). Coastal ecosystems are among the most rich and di-
ing environmental degradation as population growth (6, 7). On verse in the world, providing important global functions (eco-
the other hand, growing consumer demand in developing coun- system services) for marine ecosystems and atmospheric com-
tries also portends threats to the environment (e.g. the growing position. Finally, coastal ecosystems have proven more difficult
middle class in China and India), and does not contradict state- to manage through privatization or market relations. Coastal
ments about how high population growth is a cause of environ- waters, beaches, and tidal plains can be organized either as open-
mental degradation (8, 9). In other words, the sheer number of access systems, or more likely, some form of common property
people does not on its own explain the dire state that many eco- relations (18), increasing their vulnerability to disruption as a
systems are in—how people and institutions use those resources, result of human migration in or out of the ecosystem. Besides
or consume them, is as important (10). The organization of con- providing ecosystem services, coastal ecosystems as sites for
sumption then becomes a key mediating factor. human economic development put in sharp relief competing hu-
The issue of consumption, how to measure it, and its relation- man demands for multiple, and not always compatible, uses, such
ship to resource use is poorly understood (11) and has many dif- as water for industrial purposes, space for shipping and ports,
ferent definitions, some of which are culturally subjective and fishing, tourism, and salt, sand or coral for consumption and
depend on the social and economic aspirations of the consumer building. Thus, they represent a particular challenge for under-
(12, 13). Considering consumption of the Earth’s natural re- standing how changing human population structure affects eco-
sources, the concept needs to be evaluated in terms of its rate system sustenance, and consequently human well-being.
versus the regenerative rate of the resource being consumed. In
addition, there are very few studies that link population change,
environmental change, and resource consumption in a meaning- HUMAN INFLUENCES ON COASTAL ECOSYSTEMS
ful manner. The dearth of good research on this topic is not sur- Coasts presently support a large share of the Earth’s population,
prising. For one thing, the topic spans at least three major disci- and this share is growing faster than that of other ecosystems.
plines (demography, ecology, and economics) and requires an In 1995, 39% of the world’s population lived within 100 km of
integrated approach to theory, data collection, and analysis. Since a coast, on just 20% of the Earth’s land area (19). There is evi-
much of the interest has concerned the loss of tropical resources dence that in many countries, coastal populations are growing
and growing populations in the global South, the knowledge gen- faster than those in other areas, although this is more often an
erated needs to be useful for governments and citizens there. Yet, article of faith than rigorous demographic analysis (20). Echo-
the consumption of those resources is often for markets in the ing Malthusian concerns, Hinrichsen called population growth
global North, making it necessary for northern institutions and in the coastal zone “the ultimate threat” (15).
citizens to be aware of the consequences of their actions and for Most fisheries throughout the world are now recognized as
policy solutions that overcome free-rider costs (e.g. citizens of heavily exploited, and many are overexploited to a serious ex-
the global North free riding on the resources of the global South tent (21–23). This is especially true in the Asian region (24),
(7) ). Finally, there must be a strong connection to policy in or- where many coastal fish stocks are down to only 10% to 30%

264 © Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2002 Ambio Vol. 31 No. 4, June 2002
http://www.ambio.kva.se
of the biomass that existed before the start of heavy fishing three have spread around the world and can be adequately grouped
decades ago (25). The very species composition of the fish com- under the title “integrated coastal management” (30). Sorensen
munities has changed, as larger and more valuable fish have been highlighted the importance of the many interpretations of the
taken (26, 27) and smaller, faster-growing, and less valuable spe- term “integrated”: horizontal – across economic sectors and gov-
cies now dominate. The marine ecosystems that form fisheries ernment agencies; and vertical – of different levels of govern-
habitat are deteriorating due to deliberate destruction for other ment from local to international, across land and sea, across sci-
uses or as sinks for the world’s refuse. Half the world’s wetlands entific disciplines, and across the research, planning, and man-
disappeared in the 20th century (21); 60% of worldwide coral agement spectrum (31). Thus, the need for integrated approaches
reefs are threatened, with 80% in Asia, the worst affected re- has been well recognized in coastal management and its support-
gion, under severe threat (28); mangrove destruction has been ing research. However, as the management schemes have spread
rampant; the flows of most rivers are now interrupted by dams to other places they face growing challenges, especially in the
or will be over the next 10 to 50 years; the competition for fresh global South and especially around population growth.
water running to the sea is intense, even as its quality is pol- The studies that led to and support integrated coastal manage-
luted by industrial, agricultural, urban, and environmental con- ment practices have focused strongly on the institutional, envi-
tamination. The small island developing states of the Pacific, In- ronmental, economic, and resource status aspects of the areas
dian Ocean, and Caribbean face particular challenges on the managed (31, 32). Population questions themselves get little
coasts, which typically represent their whole territory. more than general mention, and demographic knowledge, policy,
International attention to coastal ecosystems is marked by con- and analysis skills are rarely listed among the capacity needs
cerns about stewardship at the national and sub-national levels. (33). Demographers and ministries overseeing population poli-
The 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and De- cies have had little special involvement in the integrated coastal
velopment devoted a chapter to the coastal zone in its final re- management movement, and consequently their insights are not
port. Later, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change brought to bear on the questions. Indeed, given the novelty of
(IPCC) singled out coastal zones and marine ecosystems as a population and consumption studies in coastal areas, there is little
special area for assessment attention because of their vulnerabil- understanding yet of how the population research results and
ity to the effects of climate change (29). Given the centrality of policies would be used in integrated coastal management. The
coastal ecosystems to human activity and to global biological papers in this volume, however, show that demographic factors,
health through its productive ecosystem services, Hinrichsen especially migration, are major factors in people’s use of coasts.
points out that “[u]ltimately,…all of humankind is coastal” (15).
Although the phenomenon of differential human population
growth along the coasts is not well understood in most coun- POPULATION DYNAMICS: HUMAN MIGRATION
tries, the reasons are thought to lie in the accessibility of coastal The 20th century saw historically unprecedented growth in hu-
lands that attract ports, industries, cities, and economic oppor- man population numbers. The world’s population grew from 1.6
tunity. Many coastal lands and their adjacent seas, including billion at the beginning of the century to 6.1 billion in 2000. Dur-
tropical coasts, are ecologically productive, biologically diverse, ing the late 1960s, global population growth was peaking at a
and climatically and physically attractive. The ecological and record rate of about 2% a year. But the absolute number of peo-
biological characteristics attract fishers, farmers, and fish farm- ple added each year continued to grow up to the 1980s due to
ers, and the amenity and beauty attracts tourists and recreational the expanding base to which the growth rate was being applied.
enthusiasts. Indirect effects of inland peoples are felt on the This “population explosion” was a consequence of the begin-
coasts through the downstream movement of pollutants, sedi- ning of the demographic transition in the developing countries.
ment, and nutrients from inland sources. This transition is an apparently universal process during which
The burgeoning human uses of and effects on coastal areas death rates start to decline as a consequence of improving liv-
has caused increasing concern for the state of coastal resources, ing conditions and better health care. With death rates dropping
and their sustainability and future existence. These effects are and birth rates staying high or even increasing due to women’s
not well understood in many coastal ecosystems, and in many better health status, population growth (the growth rate being the
countries even the extent of the coastal zone is poorly mapped difference between the birth and the death rate) accelerates. De-
(19). The state of the coastal environment is most critical for mographic transition then continues with birth rates also start-
those who dwell along the coast, but it is also important for all ing to fall after a certain lag—as an adjustment to higher child
citizens of coastal states because of the effects on national eco- survival, general modernization of society, and a mental transi-
nomic well-being. tion in which family limitation becomes part of conscious deci-
Better knowledge about the relationships among population, sion making. Today’s industrialized countries generally had their
coastal environments, and consumption is absolutely essential mortality declines starting in the 19th century, with the bulk of
if we are to arrive at adequate policies and management systems. the fertility declines occurring during the early 20th century. In
Vibrant economic activity in the coastal zones of the world, and today’s developing countries the mortality decline abruptly
the effects of accompanying human population growth, have led started after World War II, and was precipitous. Due to univer-
to much research, many environmental assessments, and much sal and very early marriage in these countries, fertility also
management and policy action over the years. However, surpris- tended to be much higher than in pre-transitional Europe; this
ingly little of this has been directed to better understanding who early phase of the demographic transition resulted in very high
is populating the coasts, what resources they are using, and how growth rates of 3% to 4% per year. Such rates imply a doubling
demographic factors such as migration and fertility affect con- of population size in just about 20 years. But the demographic
sumption and the coastal environment. transition also has been taking its course in the developing world,
In the United States, demographic concerns are rarely incor- and—with significant regional differentials—global fertility has
porated into new management schemes for coastal ecosystems. been declining for the past 20 years. Even in Africa, which is
Commencing more than 30-years ago, rising environmental slowest in this universal process, fertility declines now seem to
awareness and eventual frustration about the declining state of have started almost everywhere. Currently, fertility is already
natural resources by marine scientists and fisheries managers led below the “replacement level” of 2.1 children in countries with
to the development of new efforts in coastal management, sup- 45% of the world population.
ported by newsletters, scientific journals, meetings, conferences, These trends imply, with high probability, that future world
and planning and management activities. Similar efforts now population growth will come to an end during the 21st century

Ambio Vol. 31 No. 4, June 2002 © Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2002 265
http://www.ambio.kva.se
(34), and as a consequence the population age structures will be- many other environmental services that improve the quality of
come significantly older. But it is important to notice that this life. This asymmetry in mutual dependence makes the human
trend is very uneven in different parts of the world. The popu- population in principle more vulnerable than the ecosystem.
lation momentum in sub-Saharan Africa means a doubling of Throughout the centuries humans have developed strategies,
population during the next 25 years. In South Asia, Africa, and technologies, and institutions to diminish this vulnerability and
the Middle East, population increases will be greater in the next improve their quality of life. Over most of human history these
quarter century than in the preceding one. In Eastern Europe, mechanisms have not significantly affected ecosystems. During
meanwhile, population size already has entered a decline. Such recent decades, however, these influences have increased dra-
differentials are also very significant within countries. Urban ar- matically and now not only threaten the functioning of the eco-
eas and coastal areas are expected to increasingly become centers systems themselves but also may increase the vulnerability of
of gravity of population increase. This will be due mostly to in- the human population.
ternal (rural-urban) migration since birth rates are already lower Figure 1 depicts some key elements of this interaction. The
in developing regions. Hence with the coming end of global human population consists of individuals living in a defined ter-
population growth, very significant growth still is expected in ritory with a certain age and sex distribution, certain socioeco-
urban and coastal areas, particularly in developing countries. nomic and educational levels, certain occupations, and, in some
This pattern of population dynamics, and particularly its mi- cases, even relevant cultural or ethnic stratifications. The size
gration component, also is influenced by environmental factors— and composition of such a given population changes over time
such as climate conditions, food supply, and easy access—but through the demographic factors of fertility (birth rates), mor-
has important effects on coastal ecosystems. How do these two tality (death rates), and migration (movements into or out of the
systems, the human population and the ecosystem, influence each area). Differential intensities of these changes for different seg-
other? Generally speaking, coastal ecosystems can well exist in ments of the population—e.g. one ethnic group having a higher
a sustainable manner without the existence of the human spe- birth rate than another, or the characteristics of immigrants be-
cies. Human populations, on the other hand, are critically de- ing significantly different from those of the resident population—
pendent on functioning ecosystems for their most basic life-sup- also change the composition of the population over time. In ad-
port systems (i.e. food, clean air, and clean water), as well as dition, socioeconomic development within the community it-

Figure 1.
Schematic relationship
between human
population systems and
coastal ecosystems.

266 © Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2002 Ambio Vol. 31 No. 4, June 2002
http://www.ambio.kva.se
self—e.g. improving school enrollment or the introduction of tween places, the greater the flow of migrants (35). Finally, the
new industries—also changes the composition of the population flow of money from migrants back to households and commu-
and alters the way in which the human system interacts with the nities of origin influences consumption in migrant origins, and
natural ecosystem in the specific coastal area considered. may relieve pressures on or shift consumption patterns of some
When studying such population-environment interactions it is ecosystem services (36). To varying degrees the case studies
important to recognize that what matters for the environment is throughout this special issue reflect the numerous ways in which
the sum of the activities of the members of the population with migration influences consumption of ecosystem services.
a given size and structure, and not the individual components
of change directly. In other words, it is not the birth rates that
directly affect the ecosystem, nor is it the process of migration LINKING POPULATION AND ENVIRONMENT
itself (except for the CO2 emissions or other immediate effects THROUGH CONSUMPTION
of the transport), but rather it is what specific fertility and mi- The dilemma for research and policies concerned with the rela-
gration patterns do to the size and structure as well as the insti- tionship between population and the environment is ultimately
tutions of the human population system that then results in cer- about how to improve standards of living for all without dimin-
tain influential human activities. In our case of coastal systems ishing the capabilities for maintenance or further improvement
this is mostly through changes in land use and land cover (e.g. for future generations of humans. In other words, it is about how
mangrove deforestation), fishing or harvesting from the ecosys- population is linked to sustainable development, and how sus-
tem, and pollution from other human activities. The human popu- tainable development is linked to ecological outcomes. The criti-
lation affects the ecosystem, but it also profits from it through a cal mediating factor in both these questions is the organization
wide range of ecosystem services, direct harvesting being only of resources for production and consumption. The difficulties
one aspect. faced by both academics and policy makers is that the causality
When studying the complex interactions between population between population and development is disputed and so is the
dynamics and the ecosystem it is important to consider the func- linkage between development and the environment. Thus, draw-
tioning mechanisms of the full system and not single out one ing a causal link between population and the environment re-
specific factor of change (e.g. only study migrants without con- quires overcoming at least two theoretical and empirical hurdles.
sidering the dynamics of the resident population) while disre- This special issue of Ambio is organized to explicitly address
garding the way in which this factor affects the full system that the important role of consumption for mediating the relationship
then interacts with the other system. Having said this, it is of between population and environment. We build on a recent vol-
course useful and often efficient to pay closer attention to one ume addressing methodological approaches to understanding
specific factor and analyze it for studies in which it is of par- population and environment, which shows how central consump-
ticular importance, as long as the rest of the system is not ig- tion practices are to any analysis of the topic. Lutz and colleagues
nored. For the set of studies on coastal ecosystems discussed in show how consumption practices vary across populations, and
this volume, the key population factor to be given special atten- contribute to our understanding of how population systems are
tion is clearly migration. linked to ecosystems (37). In this issue, we first present three
In the context of population-environment analysis, migration case studies that highlight how consumption can be differently
should be defined in the broadest sense. It not only refers to per- organized through technology either efficiently or inefficiently
manent resettlement, but also includes seasonal migration, cir- (38–40). We highlight how the political, legal and social arrange-
cular flows, and even tourism. All these movements change the ments of entitlements , specifically common property resource
population size and structure in the study areas, and affect the management regimes, mediate between human migration and the
local ecosystem in one way or the other. In this context it is nec- ecosystem (41–43). Finally, in the third set of case studies, we
essary to have a careful view about where people spend what highlight how prices, economic subsidies, and markets mediate
proportions of their time, and what they do during this time that the relationships between migration and the ecosystem (44–47).
may have consequences on the ecosystem. In particular it is use- The cases illustrate dimensions of these preceding points, but
ful to look at specific settlement patterns. Do the people live in also reveal a complexity of factors (perhaps inherent in the case
a concentrated fashion, or is their settlement more dispersed? It study approach), which challenge generalizations, at the same
is not always clear which settlement pattern is more benign to time they demand acknowledgement. The largest challenge pre-
the ecosystem, but the mechanisms of ecological changes are sented is the globalized and growing world demand for and trade
often very different for alternative settlement structures. in coastal ecosystem services and products. This special issue
Besides considering the varying types of migration, there are of Ambio highlights such products and services as shrimp (38–
particular dimensions of migration central to the study of the 40), sea cucumbers (41), fish (42–44), mangroves (45–46), and
population-consumption-environment phenomenon. These di- tourist beaches (47).
mensions include migrant selectivity; linkages (social, political,
and economic) between migrant origin communities and migrant
destination communities; the purpose for migration; the differ- References and Notes
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Ambio Vol. 31 No. 4, June 2002 © Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2002 267
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12. United Nations Development Program. 1997. World Development Report. New York. Acknowledgements:
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27. Pauly, D., Christensen, V., Dalsgaard, J., Froese, R. and Torres Jr., F. 1998. Fishing Sara R. Curran is Assistant Professor of Sociology and
down marine food webs. Science 279, 860–863.
28. Bryant, D., Burke, L., McManus, J. and Spalding, M. 1998. Reefs at Risk: A Map-based Director of Undergraduate Studies in Sociology at Princeton
Indicator of Threats to the World’s Coral Reefs. World Resources Institute, Interna- University. She researches population and environment
tional Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, World Conservation Moni- issues, globalization, gender and family demography,
toring Center and United Nations Environment Programme, Washington, D.C. migration, and Thailand. Curran received her PhD in
29. McCarthy, J.J., Canziani, O.F. Leary, N.A. Dokken, D.D. and White, K.S. 2001. Cli-
mate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, Cambridge University Sociology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Press, Cambridge, 1032. Hill, MS from North Carolina State and BS in Natural
30. Sorensen, J. 1997. 25th Anniversary invited paper: National and international efforts at Resources from the University of Michigan. Her address:
integrated coastal management: Definitions, achievements, and lessons. Coastal Mgmt
25, 3–41. 153 Wallace Hall, Princeton University, Princeton,
31. Chua, Thia-Eng 1998. Lessons learned from practicing integrated coastal management NJ 08544, USA.
in southeast Asia. Ambio, 27, 599–610. E-mail: curran@Princeton.edu
32. Christie, P. and White, A.T. 1997. 25th Anniversary invited paper: Trends in develop-
ment of coastal area management in tropical countries: From central to community ori-
entation. Coastal Mgmt 25, 155–181. As Senior Program Officer at the John D. and Catherine T.
33. International Workshop on Integrated Coastal Management (IWICM) 1996. Enhanc- MacArthur Foundation, Anu Kumar was responsible for
ing the Success of Integrated Coastal Management: Good Practices in the Formula- grant making in the area of population, consumption, and
tion, Design, and Implementation of Integrated Coastal Management Initiatives. GEF/
UNDP/IMO, Quezon City, Philippines. the environment. Anu holds a PhD in anthropology and a
34. Lutz, W., Sanderson, W. and Scherbov, S. 2001. The end of world population growth. Masters in Public Health from the University of North
Nature 412, 543–545. Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her areas of expertise include
35. Massey, D. 1990. Social structure, household strategies, and the cumulative causation women’s reproductive health, South Asia, and qualitative
of migration. Population Index 56, 3–26.
36. Curran, S.R. 2002. Migration, Social Capital, and the Environment: Considering Mi- research methodologies. She is currently Executive Vice-
grant Selectivity and Networks in Relation to Coastal Ecosystems. In: Population and President of IPAS, an international women’s health
Environment: Methods of Analysis, Population and Development Review. Lutz, W. organization. Her address: IPAS, 300 Market Street,
Prskawetz, A. and Sanderson, W. (eds). A supplement to Volume 28, 89–125.
37. Lutz, W., Prskawetz, A. and Sanderson, W. (eds). 2002. Population and Environment: Suite 200, Chapel Hill, NC 27516, USA.
Methods of Analysis, Population and Development Review. A supplement to Volume E-mail: KumarA@ipas.org
28.
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trial transformation and shrimp aquaculture in Thailand and Vietnam. Ambio 31, 311– Wolfgang Lutz is Leader of the Population Project at the
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39. Bremner, J. and Perez, J. Human migration and the sea cucumber crisis in the Galapagos in Laxenburg, Austria, Director of the Institute for
Islands. Ambio 31, 306–310. Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna,
40. Marquette, C.M., Koranteng, K.A., Overå, R. and Bortei-Doku Aryeetey, E. 2002. Small
scale fisheries, population dynamics and resource use in Moree, Ghana. Ambio 31, 324– and Adjunct Professor in Demography and Social Statistics
336. at the University of Vienna. Lutz received his PhD and MA in
41. Aswani, S. 2002 Assessing the effects of changing demographic and consumption pat- Demography at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. His
terns on sea tenure regimes in the Roviana Lagoon, Solomon Islands. Ambio 31, 272– research interests include fertility, the family, population
284.
42. Gammage, S., Benítez, M. and Machado, M. 2002. Property rights, multiple and environment. His address: IIASA, Population Program,
stakeholders and competing demands: The challenges of mangrove management in El Schlossplatz 1, A-2361, Laxenburg, Austria.
Salvador. Ambio 31, 285–294.
43. Noronha, L., Sreekesh, S., Qureshy, L., Kazi, S., Nairy, S. and Siqueira, A. 2002. Goa:
Tourism, migrations, and ecosystem transformations. Ambio 31, 295–302. Meryl Williams was appointed Director General of ICLARM –
44. Barbier, E. and Cox, M. 2002. Economic and demographic factors affecting mangrove The World Fish Center, in 1993. She holds a PhD in
loss in the coastal provinces of Thailand, 1979–1996. Ambio 31, 351–357. Zoology and a Masters Degree in Literary Studies
45. Adger, W.N., Mick Kelly, P., Winkels, A., Huy, L.Q. and Locke, C. 2002. Migration,
remittances, livelihood trajectories, and social resilience. Ambio 31, 358–366. (mathematical statistics). She was previously Director of the
46. Kramer, R.K., Simanjuntak, S.M.H. and Liese, C. 2002. Migration and fishing in In- Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and Executive
donesian coastal villages. Ambio 31, 367–372. Director of the former Bureau of Rural Resources in the
47. Naylor, R.L., Bonine, K.M. Ewel, K.C. and Waguk, E. 2002. Migration, markets, and Department of Primary Industries and Energy, Canberra.
mangrove resource use on Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia. Ambio 31, 340–
350. She is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological
Sciences and Engineering, a board member of the
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, a member of the FAO
Advisory Committee on Fisheries Research and an advisory
committee member for the MacArthur Foundation
Population, Consumption and Environment initiative.
Her address: ICLARM, World Bank Center, Jalan Batu Maun,
Batu Maung, 11 Bayan Lepas, MALASIA.
E-mail: m.j.williams@cgiar.org

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