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Linking Ecological and Perceptual Assessments for Environmental Management: a Coral Reef Case Study

Elizabeth A Dinsdale, Biology Department, San Diego State University

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Abstract

Integrating information from a range of community members in environmental management provides a more complete assessment of the problem and a diversification of management options, but is difficult to achieve. To investigate the relationship between different environmental interpretations, I compared three distinct measures of anchor damage on coral reefs: ecological measures, perceptual meanings, and subjective health judgments. The ecological measures identified an increase in the number of overturned corals and a reduction in coral cover, the perceptual meanings identified a loss of visual quality, and the health judgments identified a reduction in the health of the coral reef sites associated with high levels of anchoring. Combining the perceptual meanings and health judgments identified that the judgment of environmental health was a key feature that both scientific and lay participants used to describe the environment. Some participants in the survey were familiar with the coral reef environment, and others were not. However, they provided consistent judgment of a healthy coral reef, suggesting that these judgments were not linked to present-day experiences. By combining subjective judgments and ecological measures, the point at which the environment is deemed to lose visual quality was identified; for these coral reefs, if the level of damage rose above 10.3% and the cover of branching corals dropped below 17.1%, the reefs were described as unhealthy. Therefore, by combining the information, a management agency can involve the community in identifying when remedial action is required or when management policies are effectively maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Key words

Coral reefs; perceptual meanings; social-ecological assessments
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087