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Coral Communities

Coral Communities looked at how to improve the resilience of communities and coral reefs to changes anticipated as a result of climate change; an issue of huge global importance. Hundreds of millions of people rely on coral reefs to provide essential services such as food and coastal protection.

Mauritius workshop with the Coral Communities team and Reef Conservation. A group's coastscape 2017. Photograph: Andy Hughes

These ecosystems also contribute significantly to national economies through sectors such as tourism.

Within the research project, which had an ethnographic field trip element to it, a team of interdisciplinary researchers drew on expertise in environmental and health economics, social sciences, development, social psychology, marine geosciences, marine biology, art (including concept and design development and film making) and religious studies. The team were a partnership between Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the Universities of Exeter and Cardiff, Indeva Consulting. Also, The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES), Mwambao Coastal Community Network, Zanzibar and another freelance artist in the UK and Reef Conservation in Mauritius.

My role was to co-develop an arts-led pilot that enabled me with other facilitators to experiment with eliciting resilience data from three communities. We were able to achieve this as the NGOs we were partnered with already worked with the communities we needed to reach. They have worked with them on safe-guarding no-take fishing zones and other marine resource management.

Mauritius workshop with the Coral Communities team and Reef Conservation. A group's coding of their coastscape, 2017. Photograph: Andy Hughes

Visual Methods

As a team we harnessed visual methods by building on exchanging skills. The following team member’s expertise were utilized:

  • NGO Reef Conservation relies on Ground Truthing in establishing ‘no take zones’ with their communities
  • NGO Mwambao Coastal Community Network are leaders in participatory video.
  • The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences (IFEES) apply visual ways of describing creation and how you should look after the earth to their resources.
  • Fine artist Andy Hughes introduced the fine art method of assemblage as well as photography as a creative discipline rather than as a tool of scientific enquiry or recording.
  • I introduced the concept of modelling a coastscape using the raw material of the seascape so the senses were triggered. (I acknowledged traditional 3DPM (three dimensional participatory modelling.)
  • I also introduced the idea of working with objects as well as photographs to collect stories, feelings and ideas around the subject of resilience and livelihood.
  • The communities influenced us and other facilitators, we took on their ideas and created a co-development environment

Mauritius workshop with the Coral Communities team and Reef Conservation. A group use a word to code their coastscape that has a double meaning, 2017. Photograph: Andy Hughes

A seven-step approach

After testing these methods and importantly co-developing them and creating methods, with the communities, we combined them in various ways. Through the combinations, communities were able to communicate knowledge, feelings and feel confident in portraying ideas about resilience and the future. Using the raw material of the seascape to create coastscapes allowed senses to become unlocked. Memories, knowledge and ideas were able to come to the fore. Also handling material such as seawater, heightened the senses and brought everyone together in the space. It also made the group feel at ease. We sometimes used slides to record words in answer to questions but largely we turned to participatory video to record what people said about what they made, thereby further bypassing language difficulties and illiteracy.

Overtime the methods became a seven-step approach and were highlighted in a co-created exhibition, newspaper and a short ‘how to do’ film.

Link to project

Coral Communities newspaper - French version - co-created with young participant designer and team

The Coral Communities project worked with people who only spoke French or Hindu or Swahili – e.g. this newspaper was co-created with a young Hindu person. They designed the logo, colour scheme and centre spread. They were also involved in workshops and have some results of their workshop translated from their language into French and English. along with their colleagues and friends,

Coral Communities newspaper - English version - co-created with young participant designer and team

Making a Coastscape Coral Communities visual method workshop with NGO partners Mwambao Coastal Community Network and Reef Conservation. Led by Dominica Williamson. Delegates such as Abigail Leadbeater from Blue Ventures have a go at the method.

Further outputs

  • The work was presented and explored at a Coral Communities workshop in the UK were invited delegates become participants in the visual methods.
  • A paper has been published. A second is in press.
  • The project has been presented and showcased through workshops at several events including a Global Challenges Research Fund Building Resilience event, 2018; the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, Cardiff, 2018, the Society and Sea International Conference, The Greenwich Maritime Centre, London, 2018. A lecture was also held for students at The European Centre for Environment & Human Health
  • The Marine Social Science Network (MARSOCSCI) highlighted the project through a webinar titled ‘Co-producing an understanding of the needs and priorities of coastal communities’.
  • The Commonwealth have showcased it as a project to spotlight best practice.
Commonwealth Case Study
Photo of Abigail Leadbeater

We obviously do quite a lot of participatory work through our project so nice to see different skills and tools we could apply.

— Abigail Leadbeater, Blue Ventures