'The reef is our garden' expanding analysis of ecosystem services in coastal communities

Lau, Jacqueline (2019) 'The reef is our garden' expanding analysis of ecosystem services in coastal communities. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Humans have changed the climate, lands and seas, forests and coasts, in ways that may destabilize earth’s key systems. In response to these declines, ecosystem services are fast becoming the new paradigm and framework that policy-makers, environmental organisations, funding bodies, and researchers use to understand and govern ecosystems for people's wellbeing. However, ecosystem services frameworks face several limitations wrought by their founding disciplines, including a tendency to focus on aggregate wellbeing and thus obscuring issues of access and justice.

This thesis aims to expand ecosystem services approaches by drawing on progress in the social sciences. I draw on theory in political ecology, anthropology, and environmental justice to extend how ecosystem services approaches capture diverse priorities for ecosystem services, illuminate issues of access and legitimacy, and understand local notions of justice. I use mixed-methods case studies in developing coastal communities in Papua New Guinea. Specifically, I combine quantitative and qualitative methods (including in-depth interviews, socio-economic surveys, participant observation) to investigate; i) how people ascribe importance to ecosystem services, ii) how customary institutions shape access to ecosystem services and retain or lose legitimacy and; iii) local notions of justice around the use and governance of ecosystem services.

I find that people tend to ascribe the most importance to ecosystem services that directly support their livelihoods and material needs. People also express concern about extractive ecosystem services, like fuelwood, that they perceive as destructive. In addition, I found that a range of access mechanisms shape access across ecosystem services value chains. Furthermore, the ways that customary institutions shape access have remained strong for some (i.e. through restricting the reef areas open to women for fishing) and have faded in legitimacy for others (i.e. young men). I also found that social cohesion, with strong relationships between leaders and community members and high participation in community events and decision-making, supported the legitimacy of customary adaptive reef management. Finally, I found similarities in notions of distributive justice across communities; many were concerned about the costs of destructive or over-intensive fishing methods. However, in one place, local concerns about people's needs stopped leaders banning destructive practices. I also found that although people held similar ideals about decision-making, actual practices manifested very differently in each place. Finally, I found that notions of recognitional justice were often expressed as respect and good conduct in the community.

Drawing on these findings, I argue that ecosystem services approaches would be enhanced by incorporating a relational definition of power, alongside its current emphasis on 'power over'. Secondly, 'need' is an important avenue of research because it shapes how people value ecosystem services, and also conceptualize justice. Thirdly, throughout my thesis, gender and normative positions around ecosystem services governance emerged as cross-cutting themes that shaped people's interactions with their ecosystems. I thus suggest that a more in-depth engagement with how moral principles manifest empirically is a crucial avenue for future research in ecosystem services.

Item ID: 60754
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Papua New Guinea, Non-monetary valuation, Relational values, Social differentiation, Gender, Anthropogenic change, Ecosystem services
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Copyright Information: Copyright © 2019 Jacqueline Lau.
Additional Information:

For this thesis, Jacqueline Lau received the Dean's Award for Excellence 2020, which recognises excellence in Higher Degree by Research and recipients of this award are commended by independent expert examiners as having made a substantial contribution to their field of research.

One publication arising from this thesis is stored in ResearchOnline@JCU, at the time of processing. Please see the Related URLs field. The publication is:

Chapter 3: Lau, Jacqueline D., Hicks, Christina C., Gurney, Georgina G., and Ginner, Joshua E. (2019) What matters to whom and why? Understanding the importance of coastal ecosystem services in developing coastal communities. Ecosystem Services, 35. pp. 219-230.

Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2019 21:22
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 40%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1604 Human Geography > 160403 Social and Cultural Geography @ 40%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1699 Other Studies in Human Society > 169905 Studies of Pacific Peoples Societies @ 20%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9605 Ecosystem Assessment and Management > 960503 Ecosystem Assessment and Management of Coastal and Estuarine Environments @ 30%
95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 30%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 40%
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