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Dr Sarah Coulthard

PhD, MSc, BSc

Senior Lecturer in International Development 

Contact details:
Dept of Social Sciences
Northumbria University
Lipman Bulding, room TBC
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tel: +44 (0)191 227   


Sarah joined Northumbria University in 2012. She has an interdisciplinary background in social and environmental science, facilitated by a joint ESRC-NERC funded PhD which studied marine resource governance in India. Sarah worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Bath, as part of the Wellbeing in Developing Countries research group (WeD), and spent 2 years at the Centre for Maritime Research (MARE), University of Amsterdam, Netherlands. She has worked as a social policy advisor for DEFRA and the Environment Agency and, prior to joining Northumbria, was a lecturer in International Development at Ulster University, Northern Ireland. 


Research and Consultancy

Research Interests

Sarah’s main research area lies within the themes of international development, sustainability, and the environment, and she has particular interest in natural resource governance, social responses to environmental change, and the relationship between poverty alleviation and environmental conservation agendas. Her current research investigates the social impacts of declining fisheries on vulnerable coastal populations, in particular, fishers and their families living in Africa and South Asia. She works closely with the concept of social wellbeing and applies it as a holistic framework to understand how access to marine resources and social wellbeing relate, and also how the pursuit of wellbeing can influence human behaviour in relation to the environment. Sarah is interested in the development of methods to assess wellbeing in coastal communities, and seeks to contribute to policies which can mutually support a sustainable marine environment and quality of life for people who are dependent upon the sea.
Sarah coordinates the Human Wellbeing and Coastal Resilience Network (see which serves as a hub to connect different research projects around the world using a wellbeing approach in the context of coastal sustainability.


Research Projects

Active research grants:
1. 2011– 2014 {Principal Investigator} Developing a social wellbeing approach for sustainable fisheries in South Asia (Well-Fish). ESRC First Grants Scheme [£205,000]

: Ruhuna University, Sri Lanka; Anna University, India.

The WellFish project seeks to advance understanding of how the concept of social wellbeing can be used to address fisheries-conservation conflict, and to generate empirical evidence on the ways in which such conflict affects the wellbeing of fishers and their families in developing countries. The project works (with partner universities) in two regions experiencing fisheries-conservation conflict in South Asia: i) Rekewa lagoon, which is a co-management arrangement for fisheries in Sri Lanka and, ii) the Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve, in Tamil Nadu, which constitutes India's largest marine protected area.

2.  2011– 2015 Work package leader: Re-incorporating the excluded: Providing space for small-scale fishers in the sustainable development of fisheries of South Africa and South Asia. Dutch NWO-WOTRO CoCoon programme [Conflict and Cooperation over Natural Resources in Developing Countries]. Led by University of Amsterdam [€ 619,400]

: University of Amsterdam and CORDAID, Netherlands; University of Cape Town and MASIFUNDISE, South Africa; Universities of Ruhuna and Jaffna, Sri Lanka; Madras Institute for Development Studies, India and the South Indian Federation of Fishermen Societies (SIFFS).

The objective of this comparative project is to advance and assess the development of governance frameworks for the understanding and resolution of core fishery conflicts in two major fishing regions: South Africa and South Asia. In both instances, sustained conflict has severely impacted the small-scale capture fisheries. Apartheid has resulted in the marginalization of small-scale fishers in South Africa. The civil war in Sri Lanka on the other hand has repeatedly displaced the Tamil and Muslim fishing population of the island and severely restricted their fishing activities. Meanwhile the vacuum created by their absence has been filled by the trawler fleets from India. In both the South African and the South Asian cases, these small-scale fisher groups are seeking to claim their fishing rights and restore socio-economic and community wellbeing. The project facilitates and monitors the negotiation process towards cooperation, making room for mutual learning and for supportive interdisciplinary research.

3.  2011– 2012 Co-investigator. Participatory Modelling Frameworks to Understand Wellbeing Trade-offs in Coastal Ecosystem Services in Kenya. NERC-ESRC-DfID funded Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation Programme (ESPA), led by University of East Anglia [£249,762]

: University of East Anglia; Kenya Wildlife Service; Kenya Wildlife Conservation Society; University of British Colombia, Canada; Stockholm Resilience Centre, Sweden.

This project seeks to develop and test a framework and associated tools to explicitly identify trade-offs a) between different ecosystem services and b) between the wellbeing of different stakeholders resulting from changes in ecosystem services (ES).
It combines marine ecosystem modelling, social-ecological systems modelling, wellbeing research and participatory processes to understand, document and deliberate on trade-offs under different governance arrangements. The project also works with future scenarios around policy, development trajectories and environmental change.

Completed research grants

4.  2009-2010 Co-investigator and Project Coordinator. Building Capacity for Sustainable Governance in South Asian Fisheries: Poverty, Wellbeing and Deliberative Policy Networks. NERC-ESRC-DfID funded Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation Programme (ESPA), led by the Institute for Development Studies, Brighton [£149,862].

5.  2007-2008 Researcher. Reducing Poverty and Enhancing Equity in the Artisanal Fisheries of Post-War Sierra Leone. British Council (DelPHE) funded [£89,490]. Led by University of Portsmouth in partnership with IMBO, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

6. 2007-2008 Researcher. Coastal Profs From postgraduate to professional – a partnership for the development of a course for professional capacity in coastal zone managers, EC-funded Asia-Link programme (2006 - 2008) [€539,000]. Led by University of Amsterdam.


Britton, E. and Coulthard, S. (In press) Assessing the social wellbeing of Northern Ireland's fishing society using a three-dimesional approach. Marine Policy.

Coulthard, S. (2012) 'What does the debate around social wellbeing have to offer sustainable fisheries?' Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 4 (3), pp. 358-363.

Coulthard, S. (2012) 'Can we be both resilient and well, and what choices do people have - incorporating agency into the resilience debate from a fisheries perspective'. Ecology and Society, 17 (1): pp. 4.

Coulthard, S., Johnson, D. and McGregor, J.A. (2011) 'Poverty, sustainability and human wellbeing: a social wellbeing approach to the global fisheries crisis'. Global Environmental Change 21 (2), pp. 453–463.

Coulthard, S. (2011) 'More than just access to fish: the pros and cons of fisher participation in a customary marine tenure (Padu) system under pressure'. Marine Policy 35 (3), pp. 405-412.

Thorpe, A., Bavinck, J.M., and Coulthard, S. (2011) 'Tracking the debate around Marine Protected Areas: key issues and the BEG framework'. Environmental Management, 47 (4), pp. 546-63.

Coulthard, S. (2009) 'Should we hang up our nets? Adaptation and conflict within fisheries – insights for living with climate change', in Adger, N.W., Lorenzoni, I. and O'Brien, K. (eds). Adapting to climate change: thresholds, values, governance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Coulthard, S. (2008) 'Adapting to environmental change in artisanal fisheries – insights from a South Indian lagoon'. Global Environmental Change, 18 (3), pp.479-489.

Coulthard, S. (2004) 'Bloom or bust: the impact of a new jelly fishing industry on local communities in South India'. Samudra, 39, pp. 15-20.

Esteem Indicators 

Conference committee member for the biennial People and the Sea conference, University of Amsterdam.  

PhD Supervision

Sarah can offer supervision in areas of: Environment and development, natural resource conflict, sustainable behaviours, social wellbeing, environmental justice and climate change.

Current supervisions:

David Crossett (Ulster University) 'A comparative analysis of adaptive capacity to flooding: perspectives from the UK and India'. Completed: March 2012.

Easkey Britton (Ulster University) 'Assessing the social wellbeing of Northern Ireland’s fishing society using a three-dimensional approach: implications for sustainable fisheries'. Expected submission: August 2012 .