Socio-economic Analysis of Oyster Reef Restoration Sites
Oyster reefs are valuable in and of themselves, and they also provide additional benefits such as shoreline protection, improved water quality, erosion control, habitat creation for wildlife, and increased recreational and commercial activities, to name just a few. To conserve and enhance oyster reefs while at the same time continue to benefit from these ecosystem services, decision makers and resource managers have invested in oyster reef restoration projects along the Texas coast and across the Gulf.
Traditionally, restoration has been motivated by ecological goals, and so restoration design and monitoring has primarily focused on environmental outcomes. Success of oyster reef restoration projects is usually tracked by measuring oyster recruitment, density, and other bio-geophysical parameters on site. However, natural resource managers and other decision makers do not typically monitor the many social, cultural, economic, and human well-being outcomes of restoration. Socio-economic monitoring data that adequately captures and communicates the outcomes of restoration is needed to inform decision making related to restoration efforts.
The Community Resilience researchers and teammates Diana Del Angel, Chris Hale, and Coral Lozada are working in partnership with The Nature Conservancy to conduct a socio-economic assessment of two oyster reef restoration sites in Texas and Louisiana. This work is comprised of three components: Creating a socio-economic monitoring plan for each of the sites, a human dimensions analysis of communities associated with the two sites, and development of outreach materials for use by both TNC and HRI.
Utilizing subject matter expert input as well as the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem service logic models and restoration planning tool that HRI previously co-developed (https://nicholasinstitute.duke.edu/project/gems), the two socio-economic monitoring plans will be created specific to the Galveston Bay and Calcasieu Lake oyster restoration projects currently under construction by The Nature Conservancy. These plans will identify expected socio-economic outcomes of oyster reef restoration and associated metrics likely to be attributed to oyster reef restoration that practitioners can use for long term monitoring. The plans will also include identification of existing monitoring data and data gaps relevant to the sites; recommendations for socio-economic monitoring methodology; and potential partnerships for carrying out socio-economic monitoring of the reefs.
Additionally, to characterize the restoration-related perceptions and values currently held by people that live or visit the area near each restoration sites, the team will design, distribute, and analyze a human dimensions survey. The survey will identify how people utilize natural resources/assets in each of the restoration areas, what their perceptions are related to natural assets, and the knowledge and awareness levels regarding the specific restoration sites. The results will establish a baseline of perceptions that can be used to gauge change in perceptions associated with these restoration sites, over time. The Community Resilience team is also working with HRI Marketing and Communications team to create visualizations of the project’s key findings.