Catching sea cucumber fever in coastal communities: conceptualizing the impacts of shocks versus trends for social-ecological systems.

Research on vulnerability and adaptation in social-ecological systems (SES) has largely centered on climate change and associated biophysical stressors. Key implications of this are twofold. First, there has been limited engagement with the impacts of social drivers of change on communities and linked SES. Second, the focus on climate effects often assumes slower drivers of change and fails to differentiate the implications of change occurring at different timescales. This has resulted in a body of SES scholarship that is under-theorized in terms of how communities experience and respond to fast versus slow change. Yet, social and economic processes at global scales increasingly emerge as ‘shocks’ for local systems, driving rapid and often surprising forms of change distinct from and yet interacting with the impacts of slow, ongoing ‘trends’. This research seeks to understand the nature and impacts of social shocks as opposed to or in concert with trends through the lens of a qualitative case study of a coastal community in Mexico, where demand from international seafood markets has spurred rapid development of a sea cucumber fishery. Specifically, we examined what different social-ecological changes are being experienced by the community, how the impacts of the sea cucumber fishery are distinct from and interacting with slower ongoing trends and how these processes are affecting system vulnerability, adaptations and adaptive capacity. We begin by proposing a novel framework for conceptualizing impacts on social systems, as comprised of structures, functions, and feedbacks. Our results illustrate how the rapid-onset of this fishery has driven dramatic changes in the community. New challenges such as the ‘gold-rush-style’ arrival of new actors, money, and livelihoods, the rapid over-exploitation of fish stocks, and increases in poaching and armed violence have emerged, exacerbating pressures from ongoing trends in immigration, overfishing and tourism development. We argue that there is a need to better understand and differentiate the social and ecological implications of shocks, which present novel challenges for the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of communities and the sustainability of marine ecosystems.