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NCCOS Project

Social Values of Ecosystem Services in Marine Protected Areas for Management Decision-Making

This project began in March 2013 and was completed in December 2016

We explored the connections between humans and the places they live, work, and play. Specifically, we looked at how people use, how they value, and how they depend on the ecosystem services of marine and coastal protected areas. We then combined social science methods with the latest in geographic information systems research to better understand these connections, and we delivered to maps to managers that describe the connections between humans and their environment.

Why We Care
Understanding the connections between ecosystem services and human use, values, and dependence is complex. Yet, understanding these connections can greatly improve management efforts in marine protected areas. By incorporating a better understanding of how and why people value protected places into the decision-making process, managers can avoid potential conflicts between various user groups and plan for sustainable use by constituents.

This project provides resource managers of National Marine Sanctuaries (NMSs) and National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERRs) valuable information concerning the linkages between humans and their use, value, and dependence upon the places where they live, work, and play.

What We Did
We surveyed residents, visitors, and other users of marine protected areas to understand their attitudes, knowledge, and preferences regarding the current environmental condition and management actions within selected marine and coastal protected areas. We collected survey responses through a combination of paper-based and online methods. Additionally, we sought to understand the relationship between the end-points of ecosystem services—the things people care about—and the environmental features present in marine and coastal protected areas; these end-points of ecosystem services are also known as social values. To explore these relationships, we asked survey respondents to weight the social values they deem most important and to identify areas on a map that they associate with those social values.

The social values of interest include the following: Aesthetic, Biodiversity, Economic, Legacy, In and of itself, Learning, Human Needs, Recreation, Spiritual, Therapeutic, Wilderness, Inspiration, and Socializing.

After obtaining the respondents’ weighted social values, we incorporated their spatial data and analyzed both types of data with the geographic information system (GIS) application known as Social Values for Ecosystem Services (SolVES, available at http://solves.cr.usgs.gov/). Outputs from the SolVES application include heat maps that describe the relationship between social value intensity and explanatory environmental variables. Previous coastal condition work conducted by NCCOS and others was used to supply the necessary environmental variables for the SolVES analysis.

This research has been completed for two areas: 1) for the  Mission-Aransas NERR  complex in the coastal bend of Texas, and 2) for the  Sapelo Island NERR  and  Gray's Reef NMS  off coastal Georgia.

The coastal bend of Texas and coastal Georgia, although very different ecological and social environments, are unique estuarine landscapes that provide many ecosystem services to its communities, from ecological and economic to aesthetic and historical. Gaining insight at the local level can result in bottom-up management and policy changes that are more easily accepted by the public. These projects are intended as a step to improving the coastal management decision-making process in each of these locations. The information gained provides not only a better understanding of human values, but also provides information as to the interaction of those values with the underlying environmental condition. This in turn aids resource managers in developing management decisions that will reflect those values in the future.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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