Ecosystem-based adaptation in marine, terrestrial and coastal regions

Published: 27th June 2013 13:27Last Updated: 27th June 2013 12:27

Conservation International is implementing Ecosystem-based Adaptation approaches in marine, terrestrial and coastal regions in Brazil, Philippines and South Africa, where we have strong track records, partners and relationships with government. EbA approaches are means of improving livelihoods and conserving biodiversity in the face of climate change.


Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) is a new concept, which capitalizes on the ability of natural systems to assist in human adaptation to climate change. In many cases, because natural systems provide multiple adaptation benefits, they are potentially much more cost effective than hard-engineered solutions. However, experience in both identifying and implementing EbA activities are in their infancy. Here we propose to identify and implement EbA activities in three very diverse settings, which will serve as models for out-scaling and up-scaling of ecosystem-based adaptation in other areas.

To increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of vulnerable people to climate change, CI will: i) assess the potential for Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) solutions in the Philippines, South Africa and Brazil; ii) implement pilot EbA solutions; iii) and provide capacity building, linking lessons learned to local, national and international climate adaptation planning and policy.

The identification and implementation of these ecosystem-based adaptation activities will help inform other EbA activities around the world. This work will provide examples from marine and terrestrial settings, including fisheries dependent on coral reefs, coastal protection by mangroves, livestock grazing in semi-arid systems, agriculture in tropical forests and freshwater use. The project will work with regional and national authorities to capitalize on these examples in other settings within the three countries, and will work with international policy bodies to create conditions which will allow replication of these results in other countries.

The project is generously funded by the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety under the framework of the International Climate Initiative (ICI) and will run until July 2015.

Project goal

The goal of the project is to implement Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) approaches in marine, terrestrial and coastal regions as a means of improving livelihoods and conserving biodiversity in the face of climate change. The outcome of the project will be that the conditions, knowledge, and demonstrations for using ecosystems to help people adapt to climate change are improved or increased.

Target regions

In the Philippines, the target region is the Verde Island Passage marine corridor. The 100 km long Verde Island Passage (VIP) in the northern Philippines is located within the globally significant Coral Triangle, an area considered the center of the world’s marine biodiversity. The VIP population is projected to increase rapidly over the next 10 years. Currently, over 7 million people live in the VIP region, with 830,000 people living along the coast. These coastal communities depend on marine resources for livelihoods including fishing, aquaculture, and tourism-based activities. 

The diversity of pressures on the marine ecosystems of the VIP reflects the high human dependence on these systems. Overfishing affects the entire region, including destructive fishing (e.g. blast, cyanide). The natural protection of the coasts of the VIP has been degraded through clearing large mangrove areas for aquaculture, coastal development and logging. All of these combined with increasing storm events have resulted in erosion and degradation of the natural coast. 

In South Africa the target system is the semi-arid land of Namaqualand. The Namakwa District of the Northern Cape Province (NNC) is a semi-arid region of 126,800 km2 in northwest South Africa that hosts a population of 126,500. The heart of Namaqualand is very well known for its mass display of wild flowers in spring.  But for most of the year it is a dry, dusty, semi-arid desert where people sustain themselves through livestock farming or working on the large diamond and heavy-minerals mines that occupy most of the region’s coastline.

Namaqualand’s farmers are faced with the constant challenges of water scarcity (in many areas the scant ground water is the only water source) and land degradation. The Northern Cape is the third most degraded province in South Africa, with run-away erosion, overgrazed land, alien plant species and ploughed wetlands -a common sight in the area. These poor land care practices reduce the carrying capacity of the land and also the ability of Namaqualand’s farmers to withstand increasing temperatures and aridity predicted for the area as the world’s climate changes. Unfortunately for many, the mining industry is downscaling in the region and retrenched employees are returning to the land, using their payout packages to purchase livestock—placing additional pressure on the land.

In Brazil, the target region is the tropical forest/marine interface. The Southern Bahia/Abrolhos (SBA) region encompasses some of the most threatened tropical forest in the world in direct juxtaposition to a rich and unusual coral reef marine area. The SBA covers an area of 32,000 km2 of terrestrial ecosystems and nearly 46,000 km2 of marine habitats that support over 500,000 people. The project area harbours the largest forest remnants within the northeast range of the Atlantic Forest biome, as well as the largest and richest coral reefs in the Southern Atlantic, which are part of the Abrolhos Seascape. Large employment is generated from natural systems, with nearly 20,000 people living from fisheries, and another 80,000 who live from tourism.

The species and habitats of the region are now threatened by overfishing, inadequate coastal occupation, dredging and other activities incompatible with sustainable development. The region has a history of disturbances during the settlement process, with impacts arising from wood collection (i.e. timber extraction or logging of hardwoods), cattle ranching, agriculture (i.e. mostly coffee and papaya, and cellulose plantation later), and a long history of commercial fisheries. These economic activities led to high levels of deforestation, with less than 25% percent of the remaining forest cover left, most in fragments smaller than 100 hectares. The river basins of the region are extremely important not only to Atlantic Forest biodiversity, but to the coral reefs and other elements of the marine ecosystem. 

Specific project goals

This project is divided in five work packages, each one with several activities:

1. Climate change vulnerability assessments. In all three countries, vulnerability assessments have been conducted to identify climate impacts in the regions we are working on, to identify the consequences of those impacts and to identify adaptation recommendations. 

2. EbA demonstrations implemented. After the vulnerability assessments are completed, two EbA demonstrations have been identified and implemented in each country.

3. Cost-effectiveness of EbA and impact on communities and biodiversity assessed. Once the EbA demonstrations have been implemented, cost-effectiveness analysis will be conducted in one demonstration per country. The analysis will compare the cost and effectiveness of those demonstrations with engineer solutions or business as usual.

4. The potential contribution of EbA to local-to-national adaptation efforts assessed and communicated. Results of EbA demonstrations will inform national policy, which amplifies their impact.

5. Policy makers engaged in EbA to inform international policyThrough engagement with international policy fora, lessons from the project will inform the global dialogue.

Results and ongoing work

1. Vulnerability assessment completed for the three countries:

2. EbA demonstrations in the three countries:


Pilot demonstration 1: Adapting to climate change on the impacts in the coast of Ponta do Corumbau, Bahia.

Pilot demonstration 2: Integration of Ecosystem-based Adaptation recommendations into the municipal plan of restoration and protection of the Atlantic Forest in Porto Seguro, Bahia.


Pilot demonstration 1: Mangrove restoration and protection to secure the coastline and increase coastal resilience to storm surges, flooding and erosion

Pilot demonstration 2: Improvement of fishing practices and the design and implementation of climate-smart marine protected areas

South Africa:

Pilot demonstration 1: Wetland restoration and improved management of rangelands in the Liliefountein area, Kamiesberg, to cope with the negative impacts of climate change on water resources.

Pilot demonstration 2: Restoration and improvement of land management in Steinkopf area, Nama Khoi, to cope with the negative impacts of climate change on water resources.

3. Cost-effectiveness analysis in one of the EbA demonstrations in each country are underway:

So far, draft Theories of Change (ToCs) were developed for both South Africa and the Philippines, coupled with EbA interventions and a cost-effectiveness analysis framework. The cost-effectiveness analysis in EbA demonstration 1 in the Philippines and in the EbA demonstration 1 in South Africa are currently underway.

4. The potential contribution of EbA from local to national adaptation efforts have been assessed and/or communicated in the three countries:

In the Philippines, progress continued to be made at the national level to develop guidelines on the reversion of Abandoned, Underutilized and Underdeveloped (AUU) fish ponds into mangrove forest.

In South Africa, progress was made on both local and national fronts. At the local level, Green Choice’s Land Management Guidelines were presented to the NDM Council along with a climate adaptation toolkit. CSA attended the Disaster Management Forum meeting, which confirmed that climate change concerns and EbA are now integral parts of the local disaster risk reduction strategy. At the national level, CSA continued to raise awareness by giving a presentation on EbA, its principles, approaches and policy linkages at a workshop organized by the National Department of Environmental Affairs. Input is also being provided to the water pricing strategy, ensuring that a portion of the cost goes back into catchment restoration linked to climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction. CSA is also contributing directly as a member of the Long-Term Adapation Scenarios Program led by SANBI. This program will conduct climate and impact modeling across South Africa to assess development scenarios and develop adaptation responses.

In Brazil, CI contributed to a symposium on the interconnections between continent and ocean in a climate change context. Out of this an e-group was created ( to exchange information that is relevant for local and national adaptation policy. At the local level, a workshop was held to engage protected area managers in EbA. At the national level, the Brazilian Panel on Climate Change is conducting public consultations on its first climate change report (

5. Policy makers have been engaged in EbA to inform international policy:

CI continues to bring the lessons learned from implementation of this project to international level, specifically through engaging in the UNFCCC process. Specifically, we produce analyses of international policies on adaptation that can be used to inform national adaptation processes and policies. For example, CI has updated the International policy engagement strategy, produced talking points from the Doha negotiations, and a position paper on the Nairobi work programme, that has been widely circulated. These practices allow the lessons from the IKI project to be considered in international adaptation policies and mechanisms through international knowledge sharing platforms.

The international policy engagement efforts will continue to focus on the following: 1) creating and strengthening relationships within the international policy arena; 2) strengthening national policy with country areas and integrating international policy activities with national policy initiatives in the pilot countries; 3) communicating the initiatives’ goals and plans; and 4) raising awareness of EbA efforts on the ground. This component has also supported a paper on the history of EbA in international policy, and a baseline survey to understand perceptions of EbA amongst UNFCCC negotiators and national policy-makers. Ongoing activities will include internal generation of lessons learnt, communication and synchronization of policy objectives at the national scale, and influencing international policy through an enhanced understanding of EbA at international conferences, trainings, and workshops. 

Outreach Materials

For more information, please contact:

Camila Donatti, Climate change adaptation manager at Conservation International,

Further resources

Other iniativies working around Ecosystem-Based Adaptation

  • The EcoADAPT project in Latin America
  • The Role of Biodiversity in Climate Change Mitigation in Latin America (ROBIN)
  • The Equitable Payments for Watershed Services (EPWS) in the Uluguru mountains, in Tanzania (East Africa)
  • The Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) programme.
  • The Cascade project in Central America