Ecosystem service assessments are a top priority at many reserves in the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. However, within ecosystems services research, there is a critical gap surrounding the equitable representation of cultural ecosystem services (CES) — one of four main categories of ecosystem services (the others being supporting, provisioning, and regulating services). CES are often described as the non-material benefits that humans receive from their interactions with the environment, but they can also encompass the diverse suite of interactions between humans and the environment that support and maintain place-based values, worldviews, cultural identity, and well-being. Thus the inclusion of CES in natural resource planning and decision-making processes is critical given their potential to reveal feedbacks between human and environmental well-being integral to long-term and successful application of stewardship and management strategies. This project aims to advance the equitable representation of CES in estuary stewardship and management within and beyond the NERRS.
This project supports new collaborative research across two sites in the Pacific that aim to enhance estuary stewardship and management by weaving practices in contemporary ecological restoration together with Indigenous and local knowledge and place-based stewardship techniques. The project will provide end users at Heʻeia NERR (HI), Kachemak Bay NERR (AK), and across the NERRS network with a series of decision-making tools and resources on CES to identify and prioritize restoration actions, monitor and evaluate management success, and improve estuarine habitat resilience. Project activities include a series of workshops and focus groups with reserve staff and community partner organizations in Heʻeia and Kachemak Bay to identify salient CES and to evaluate the strengths and shortcomings of the various assessment methods, especially when applied across reserves and communities. The project will culminate in a multi-reserve exchange convening staff and community partners from the Heʻeia NERR and Kachemak Bay NERR in Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi to identify shared challenges and future opportunities. Project outputs include a technical report summarizing CES assessment methods and associated metrics, workshop summaries and methods evaluations, preliminary conceptual CES models for both reserves, outreach materials for broader sharing, and community-centered artistic outputs (i.e., painted mural and digital art files) that visually depict the importance of CES in Heʻeia. Ultimately, the project is intended to catalyze future collaborative research on CES toward developing best practices to identify and monitor long-term, locally and culturally responsive datasets for estuary stewardship and management.