Erin Bohensky is a Regional Futures Analyst with CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in Townsville. With a background in landscape and systems ecology, her research addresses the understanding and management of complex social-ecological system dynamics, and how these dynamics are influenced by information and perception. She uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches, with current projects in the Great Barrier Reef catchment and the broader Asia-Pacific region. Before joining CSIRO in 2006, Erin completed her PhD at the University of Pretoria on social-ecological systems and water management in South Africa. She also contributed to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in Southern Africa, and subsequently worked on a UNEP/UNDP initiative to assist African governments in applying the Assessment framework to poverty reduction initiatives..
There is increasing interest from research and management perspectives in understanding resilience in regional-scale systems, where the definition and management of resilience may differ from those applicable to communities, industries or organisations. I present an ongoing two-pronged investigation of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) catchment-to-reef system to understand what constitutes social resilience to water quality change at a regional scale, against a complex backdrop of economic and institutional change, conflicting societal perceptions and values, and high vulnerability to climate change. The first “prong” is a case study analysis of other regional systems in Australia where water quality change is in more advanced stages than in the GBR and has potentially changed the identity, structure, or function of the linked social system. The second is a set of interviews with natural resource managers operating at catchment and cross-catchment levels in the GBR to elicit their understandings and perceptions of social resilience and how the concept of social resilience might help them manage. The case studies reveal that factors that appear to relate to regional-scale resilience fall into five broad clusters: identity and attitudes, social-ecological system understanding, governance dynamics, vulnerability to external shocks, and temporal disconnects in system processes. Interviews emphasized the role of cross-scale social networks, leadership, capacity-building, financial and technical support, and economic stability in enhancing the resilience of the GBR region. While findings of the case studies and interviews show some similarity, the case studies enable us to view the systems over longer time periods and observe slower dynamics, and are often most informative in their illustration of system failure. The interviews tend to reflect current issues on managers’ agendas and often at finer spatial scales than region-wide. The significance and awareness of scale processes reflected in both analyses, however, suggest that some of the scale-related trade-offs that have undermined resilience in the past may stand a better chance of being resolved in the GBR. A lesson emerging from this multi-faceted approach appears to be that the divergence of findings is particularly important to understand and manage for regional-scale resilience.