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Improving Representation of Human Well-Being and Cultural Importance in Conceptualizing the West Hawai’i Ecosystem

May 01, 2019

Cultural ecosystem services and human well-being are recognized as important elements of SES. This study examined frameworks related to cultural ecosystem services and human well-being to better portray their importance.

Ecosystem-based management approaches are increasingly used to address the critical linkages between human and biophysical systems. Yet, many of the social-ecological systems (SES) frameworks typically used in coastal and marine management neither represent the social and ecological aspects of the system in equal breadth or depth, nor do they adequately operationalize the social, or human, dimensions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Hawai‘i Integrated Ecosystem Assessment, a program grounded in ecosystem-based management, recognizes the importance of place-based human dimensions in coastal and marine resource management that speak to a fuller range of social and cultural dimensions of ecosystem-based management. Previous work with stakeholders in West Hawai‘i revealed noteworthy SES dynamics and highlighted both the importance and lack of understanding of the links between ecosystem services and human well-being, particularly services that enhance and maintain active cultural connections to a place. While cultural ecosystem services and human well-being are often recognized as important elements of SES, there have been substantial barriers to fully representing them, likely due to perceived difficulties of measuring non-material benefits and values, many of which are socially constructed and subjective. This study examined SES frameworks related to cultural ecosystem services and human well-being to advance the representation and operationalization of these important concepts in coastal and marine management. We describe key insights and questions focused on: (1) points of inclusion for human dimensions in SES models, (2) culturally relevant domains of human well-being and related indicators, (3) the importance of place and its interaction with scale, and finally (4) the tension between a gestalt vs. discrete approach to modeling, assessing, and sustainably managing social-ecological systems.


Leong KM, Wongbusarakum S, Ingram RJ, Mawyer A, Poe MR. 2019. Improving representation of human well-being and cultural importance in conceptualizing the West Hawai`i ecosystem. Frontiers in Marine Science. 6:231. https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2019.00231

Last updated by Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center on 12/02/2021