[Coral-List] tragedy of the commons

Clive Wilkinson clive.wilkinson at rrrc.org.au
Sun Jul 21 05:51:13 UTC 2019

Dear Ehsan and others interested in tragedy of the commons on the List

Several years ago Bernard Salvat and I published this paper in Marine Pollution Bulletin. It was the most difficult paper we ever wrote and took many years of agonising re-writing.

Wilkinson, C., Salvat, B. (2012). Coastal resource degradation in the tropics: does the tragedy of the commons apply for coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds? Marine Pollution Bulletin, 64: 1096-1105. (copies can be provided)

After several attempts to publish this in more socioeconomic journals with strong criticism from predominantly social scientists, Charles Sheppard accepted this for publication. 

There is a distinct split of people looking at tragedy of the commons: those who research communities living in natural environments see examples where tragedy of the commons has been avoided; whereas ecologists looking at ecosystems where people live see many examples of tragedy of the commons with ecosystem degradation and collapse (as Alina and others have pointed out). As a broad assessment we would suggest that for every one successfully community-managed system there would be 5 to 10 near or total failures. 

Early drafts were passed through experienced coral reef scientists (about 19) including Charles Birkeland, Don Kinsey, Peter Sale, Bob Buddemeier, Frank Talbot and Bob Johannes (to whom we dedicated the paper). While they did not always agree with our findings they provided valuable comment and most encouraged us to continue with publication.

The major difference is the scale of observation: few would suggest that ecosystems, especially coral reefs, are being sustainably managed at the global scale. There are some good examples and the efforts of Nancy Knowlton and Jeremy Jackson provide case studies to build on; we need many more of these.  To achieve this we need more cooperation between the social, ecological and other scientists rather than bluntly dismissing what Garret Hardin wrote 51 years ago.

Clive Wilkinson

Reef and Rainforest Research Centre

From: Coral-List <coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov> On Behalf Of Ehsan KAYAL via Coral-List
Sent: Thursday, 18 July 2019 3:07 AM
To: Douglas Fenner <douglasfennertassi at gmail.com>
Cc: coral list <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] cooperation and the tragedy of the commons

Dear Douglas and other colleagues. Long ago, the myth of the tragedy of the commons has been debunked by economists and other scholars (see here for
instance: https://economicquestions.org/tragedy/). I believe it is time we biologist also accept the fallacy of such theory.
Ehsan Kayal, PhD
Station Biologique de Roscoff
Place Georges Teissier
CS 90074
29688 Roscoff Cedex
tel: (+33)298295646
ehsan.kayal at sb-roscoff.fr
This conversation is most likely monitored by the government “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

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