SUSAKI Project

Aim of the SuSaki (Sustainable Samothraki) Project

The project aims at analysing society-environment relations on a Samothraki. Our proposed research is in line with the LTSER tradition (Long Term Socio-Ecological Research, see Singh et al. 2013) and builds upon a sociometabolic understanding of socioecological systems. We seek to explore the factors that cause societies to prosper and sustain themselves on islands and those that lead to collapse. On Samothraki a number of historical cases of collapse have occurred, in the sense of breakdown of complexity and rapid population decline. At present there is a fragile situation of slow decline of population and ecological challenges that might possibly be brought to a tipping point by impacts of the Greek economic and governance crisis and climate change. At the same time the island community has decided to make an effort at turning the whole island into a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This project aims at giving scientific support to this process, by generating improved insights from the past about collapse, and identifying the threats and possible ailments in order to avoid them for the present. In order to investigate the changes on the island’s socioecological system over a longer period, we will extend our focus on the recent past, when the island is experiencing a transition process from an agrarian to a modern society and a gradually rising imbalance from ecological overexploitation. With this project we do not only want to study the changing impacts society has on the environment, but also other factors causing population and complexity decline, e.g. the importance of the connection to the mainland or emigration. The overarching aims of the project are the following:

  • Identify the key conditions of self-reproduction of the socioecological system of the island of Samothraki, as well as the main drivers of transformation.
  • Reconstruct the current system’s compartments and dynamics, in order to make recommendations on how to avoid critical tipping points at present and strive for a sustainable future.

Research Approach

Guiding paradigm for understanding the self-reproduction of socioecological systems is a model of interaction between cultural and natural spheres of causation. In the realm where these two spheres interact, namely the hybrid (that is, both naturally and culturally governed) compartments of the system, we deal with a stocks and flows model. The system and its various compartments reproduce themselves as long as the flows required for maintaining the stocks can be organized. The figure gives a comprehensive overview of this model. The centre is occupied by the core (hybrid) compartments of the socioecological system on the island: the local population, the visitor population, and the three key economic sectors including the biophysical infrastructures these sectors require and maintain (in the case of agriculture: the livestock). The local population invests labour into the economic sectors, and receives income and services in return. The visitor population brings money from outside, and receives services in return. All economic sectors draw on certain resources from the marine and/or terrestrial environment, and gene rate wastes in return. The behaviour of all actors is guided by the island’s legal and cultural system, and this system in turn may incorporate new experiences.

Socioecological System of Samothraki