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Vol 39  No 5
Nov. 2, 2006


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New research chair advancing coastal collaboration

by Leslie Vryenhoek

Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee isn't just talking about interdisciplinarity or internationality - she lives both. Formerly trained as a marine scientist in Bangkok and then in fishery management and resource economics at Michigan State, she later studied fishery biology at the University of North Wales and then received a PhD in resource management and environmental studies from UBC.

Dr. Ratana Chuenpagdee
So what's she doing in Memorial's Geography Department? The new Canada Research Chair in natural resource sustainability and community development, who joined Memorial's community in September, explained: "This was developed as an interdisciplinary chair in the Faculty of Arts. It seems the work in coastal resource issues and sustainability that the chair is doing fits very nicely with geography," she said, adding that she recognizes many others at Memorial are interested in similar issues. "I do look forward to forming working relationships with them."

Dr. Chuenpagdee's work on coastal areas integrates the physical, biological, economic, social and governance aspects of these crucial ecosystems. She is setting up a research program that tackles a myriad of interconnected coastal issues.

"There are a lot of challenges facing so many communities," she said. "We need to look at all the systems involving people, resources and governance."

For the past five years, she has been a member of the international Fisheries Governance Network, which recently produced a textbook and a guidebook. The latter is a resource for policy practitioners looking for solutions. The approach is to build an understanding of the interactions between resources and communities, and to focus not just on solving societal problems, but also on creating opportunities. She believes the guidebook can be applied to other issues of coastal concern beyond the fishery.

Now, as part of a much larger program funded by the European Union, she's leading a team in the development of a computer-based model that will allow communities around the globe to explore the potential impacts of different decisions in different types of coastal areas.

Called the Coastal Transects Analysis model - or CTAM - the software, still in its initial stages of development, was launched at a conference in Indonesia in August.

The program allows people to input basic data about their coastal environment - such as physical attributes, habitats and resources, economic activities and pressing issues - and find information on other jurisdictions with similar circumstances. That, in itself, she noted, is valuable in helping break through isolation.

"Everybody in every community is unique, yes - but let's talk about what we have in common and learn from each other."

Because she wants the software to be equally as accessible to those in outport communities and in developing countries, it's a simple tool to use, requiring no special technical knowledge or navigational skills. And to improve freedom of use, it will be available for use both online and offline.

"The idea is to get people thinking about and discussing together what they would like to see happen in their communities, and be able to plan accordingly," she explained.

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