Prateep Nayak


Prateep Nayak, CCRN ResearcherPrateep Nayak is Assistant Professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development at the University of Waterloo. He has an academic background in political science, environmental studies and international development, and holds a PhD in Natural Resources and Environmental Management from University of Manitoba. He engages in interdisciplinary scholarship with an active interest in combining social and ecological perspectives. Prateep’s research focuses on the understanding of complex human-environment connections (or disconnections) with particular attention to social-ecological change, its drivers, their influence and possible ways to deal with them. His main research interests include commons, environmental governance, social-ecological system resilience, environmental justice and political ecology.

In the past, Prateep worked as a development professional in India on issues around community-based governance of land, water and forests, focusing specifically at the interface of research, implementation and public policy. He is a past SSHRC Banting Fellow, Trudeau Scholar, a Harvard Giorgio Ruffolo Fellow in Sustainability Science and a recipient of Canada’s Governor General Academic Gold Medal.


Chilika lagoon, also called Chilika Lake, is the largest lagoon in India and one of the largest in Asia, with an area of 1165 km2. It is in Odisha State on the east coast of India on the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean. Chilika is a Ramsar site wetland of global conservation importance, and a productive area with a fish fauna adapted to a mix of freshwater and seawater that characterises lagoon ecosystems. The shallow and sheltered waters of the lagoon are also suitable for aquaculture, especially for the intensive production of the lucrative tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon) that naturally occurs in these waters. There are about 337 villages around the lagoon, 150 of them being fisher villages. The estimated fisher population of the area is about 400,000 in about 40,000 fisher households. The fishers are caste-based, meaning that the fishery consists of traditional fisher groups whose vocation is identified by their membership in certain Hindu castes. There are four fisher castes (Kaibartya, Khatia, Kandra, and Tiara) and a number of sub-castes belonging to Kaibartya caste in Chilika, and a fifth group (Nolia) that is not a local fisher caste but originally from the southern region of India. Many fisheries in India are dominated by such traditional fishers and their community and caste organisations. However, caste-based fisheries are under pressure in various parts of India, and other groups are entering the fishery, and Chilika is no exception.

Like many coastal lagoons around the world, India’s Chilika lagoon has been facing a series of problems resulting in serious degradation of its social and ecological aspects. Chilika Lagoon is the largest brackish water lagoon of Asia which is situated along the east coast of India in the state of Orissa. Major problems are related to a decreased salinity in the lagoon, caused by a narrowing of the lagoon mouth. The gradual choking of this outlet to the sea was a result of the accumulation of sediment entering the lagoon from the drainage basin. To address this problem a new sea mouth was opened in the year 2001 which has reportedly resulted in additional problems instead of helping the situation. Consequently, fish population has decreased drastically. Traditional fisher folks were particularly hit by these problems because they are dependent on the fish from lagoon for their livelihood. As a result the fisherfolk are facing severe social and economic crisis. Aquaculture in their customary fishing areas has also contributed to the fishers’ marginalization. Several of the traditional fisher communities have lost their fishing sites because of illegal encroachment by the aquaculture people. State policies have tended to support aquaculture operation that has virtually replaced fishing livelihood of traditional fishers who are forced to migrate in search of jobs.


My research work focuses primarily on coastal-marine sustainability. My primary research interest has been to understand the complex human-environment connections in coastal-marine systems with particular attention to the processes of change and its impacts on sustainability across multiple scales. I focus on the drivers of such changes, the nature of their influence, and possible ways to deal with them. My current research investigates ‘how to achieve development that can promote human well-being while conserving the environment’ and considers this as a way forward for attaining sustainability of human-environmental systems. To this effect, I actively pursue the question of ‘how do we realize this in theory as well as in policy and practice’. My work on coastal-marine social-ecological systems posits that (a) understanding the complex human-environment context, including its specific history and politics, with attention to issues of power, equity and justice offers key foundation, (b) resource access, entitlements, commons rights and positive control of people over their environment are essential determinants, (c) livelihood and wellbeing analysis are central to human-environment connection, and (d) a promising approach is to build appropriate institutional and governance arrangements with scope for linkages and partnerships among multiple actors.

I am currently engaged in two specific research proiects:
1) ‘Living with Climate Change: Mapping Experience and Adaptation across the Global South and North (LCC)’ is a research partnership on generating knowledge of how those directly affected by extreme social and environmental changes understand these changes, and how this understanding shapes their subsequent adaptation strategies. In particular, we are interested in how different social, environmental and policy contexts affect adaptation strategies, so as to inform policies that can support successful and equitable local adaptations to environmental changes, adaptation strategies that are integrated and coordinated with global strategies and needs.
2) ‘Social-ecological change, thresholds and governance in aquatic-terrestrial systems’ aims to further our understanding on the emergence of thresholds and the potential for regime shifts in social-ecological systems. Identification of ecological drivers of thresholds and regime shifts has improved with numerous examples in aquatic and terrestrial systems. Despite such advances, understanding of linked social-ecological variables that may possibly signal approaching thresholds and regime shifts and the implications for governance remains poor. The research focuses on three main objectives: a) To draw on socially and ecologically defined thresholds and understanding of key variables to define appropriate social-ecological units for governance; b) To identify and assess emerging governance arrangements for multi-resource sector social-ecological units experiencing rapid change; and c) To compare and synthesize experience with adaptive, multi-level governance processes across study sites and identify their potential for dealing with uncertainty.

Currently, work is in progress to synthesise a framework to situate regimes shifts in human-environment systems (termed as social-ecological regimes shift) thereby help broaden our understanding of regime shifts, and to consider the implications for management and governance. Social-ecological regime shift is defined as abrupt, long-term and significant changes in linked systems of people and nature with uncertain implications for ecosystem services and human wellbeing. The framework draws from longitudinal research in two coastal lagoons in India and Vietnam and includes several key elements, i.e., drivers of change, scale and levels of environmental and social change, attention to issues of social inequity and injustice, questions around power dynamics and imbalance, and crafting innovative governance arrangements.

Key Publications

• Nayak, P. K., L. E. Oliveira, and F. Berkes 2014. Resource degradation, marginalization, and poverty in small-scale fisheries: threats to social-ecological resilience in India and Brazil. Ecology and Society 19(2): 73.

• Nayak, P. K. 2014. The Chilika Lagoon social-ecological system: an historical analysis. Ecology and Society 19(1): 1.

• Weeratunge, N., C. Bene, R. Siriwardane, A. Charles, D. Johnson, E. H. Allison, P. K. Nayak and M. Badjeck. 2013. Small-scale fisheries through the wellbeing lens. Fish and Fisheries Online First, DOI: 10.1111/faf.12016.

• Nayak. P. K. and F. Berkes. 2012. Linking global drivers with local and regional change: A social-ecological system approach in Chilika Lagoon, Bay of Bengal. Regional Environmental Change Online First, DOI 10.1007/s10113-012-0369-3.

• Nayak, P. K. and F. Berkes. 2011. Commonisation and decommonisation: Understanding the processes of change in Chilika Lagoon, India. Conservation and Society 9:132-145.

• Nayak, P. K. 2011. Conditions for Governance of tenure in lagoon social-ecological systems: Lessons from around the world. UN/FAO initiative on Governance of Tenure for Responsible Capture Fisheries. Rome: FAO.

• Nayak, P. K. and F. Berkes. 2010. Whose marginalisation? Politics around environmental injustices in India’s Chilika Lagoon. Local Environment 15(6): 553–567.

• Robson, J. P. and P. K. Nayak. 2010. Rural out-migration and resource dependent communities: Lessons from Mexico and India. Population and Environment 32: 263-284.

• Nayak, P. K. and F. Berkes. 2008. Politics of Co-optation: Community forest management vs. joint forest management in Orissa, India. Environmental Management 41(5): 707–718.