Identifying Social Factors that Undermine Support for Nature-Based Coastal Management

Lauren Josephs, University of Rhode Island
Austin T. Humphries, University of Rhode Island


Human use and degradation of coastal ecosystems is at an all-time high. Thus, a current challenge for environmental management and research is moving beyond ecological definitions of success and integrating socioeconomic factors. Projects and studies with this aim, however, have focused primarily on monetary valuations of ecosystem functions, overlooking the behaviors and psycho-social motivations of environmental management. Using a nature-based salt marsh restoration project on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, we assess the role of human attitudes and preferences in evaluating social success for ecosystem management. We use structural equation modeling to compare the strengths of social variables in predicting restoration project support, and find public understanding to be a more important predictor than personal values. Our results show that even among stakeholders with strong pro-environmental values, a weak understanding of the management initiative can undermine support. We also find that project support does not necessarily translate to the prioritization of similar management strategies. Instead, when individuals consider overall management priorities, differences arise between particular resource user-groups. This suggests that strong public support for individual initiatives can misconstrue complexities in stakeholder preferences that emerge in more comprehensive management considerations. Future investigations of the psycho-social components of management solutions should address the potentially tiered nature of human preferences, as well as whether public perceptions of management effectiveness act as an additional context-dependency of social viability.