ENN: Human values and coral reef management

From: Robin Blackstone, ENN
Published December 16, 2013 11:12 AM


“Human values need to be considered in decision-making to improve long-term coral reef management” says Dr. Christina Hicks, research fellow from Stanford. Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University and Stanford University are linking social science to ecology in order to improve the environmental problems in these sensitive ecosystems. Currently little thought is given to the human community’s needs including food and wellbeing for the more powerful economic interests, such as tourism, which drives coral reef management.

Yet the fishers in the local community play an essential role in coral reef ecology management. Dr. Nick Graham, senior research fellow at the ARC CoECRS says a lack of ‘ownership’ of reef resources for fishers, who depend on fish for their food and livelihoods, underlies a main area of conflict and their priorities need to be considered when managing these natural environments.

Resultantly Hicks and Graham led a study to focus on measuring and comparing the priorities of various coral reef ecosystem stakeholders including managers, scientists and fishers. Fundamentally all groups agreed that fishery, education, and habitat were high priorities but each group prioritized a little differently reflecting the conflict. Managers prioritized culture over the scientists’ priority for coastal protection and fishers’ prioritized fishery and fish education. Managers’ priorities were ultimately more aligned with scientists’ than with fishers but the extent of their agreement differed significantly.

The group believes that measuring ecosystem service priorities would highlight key areas of agreement and conflict, both within and across stakeholder groups. In this way each concern would be reflected when communicating and determining management approach for the coral reef’s ecosystem.

Using network analysis to map interactions between stakeholders’ priorities, distinct synergies and trade-offs were identified in how ecosystem services were administered. For fishers, trade-offs emerged between two services, both of a higher priority: fishery and habitat. Conversely, for scientists, trade-offs emerged between services of a higher and lower priority: habitat and culture. The trade-offs and synergies that emerged for the managers overlap with both fishers and scientists suggesting a potential brokering role for managers in balancing priorities and conflicts for all groups.

“Communities that are engaged and recognized are more likely to trust and support their management agencies,” adds Dr. Hicks. Governments who consult local communities to develop co-management plans generally reduce conflict; see increased livelihood and ecological benefits (such as a rise in fish stocks) in their area. Presently countries like Papua New Guinea and Kenya have successful arrangements.

Read more at ARC Centre of Excellence Coral Reef Studies.

Coral Reef image via Shutterstock.

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