Social Science

Ecosystem services are the goods and services from ecological systems that are of benefit to people. These benefits include storm protection, nursery grounds for young or small fish and shellfish, and pure enjoyment through use or aesthetics. Valuation is defined by NCCOS as the act or process of assigning an economic (market or non-market), social or cultural worth, utility or importance to special places or particular ecosystem products, services, or functions. The value of these special places or ecosystem services, products, or functions may be deemed relative, absolute, inferred, or estimated depending upon the research questions or management needs.

Assigning a value to services provided by ecosystems provides a common language for decision making, allowing clear trade-off discussions between such ideas as development vs. conservation. NCCOS identifies, documents, measures and/ or estimates the social, cultural, and/or economic value to stakeholders, coastal communities, or society of special places and important ecosystem services, products, or functions. Coastal communities, planners, managers, regulators, and industry can use this social, cultural, and economic value information to make holistic business and management decisions.

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Community managers need to understand how people are using and impacting natural resources in a particular ecosystem. Managers who include data on the impacts of human use to complement the biological assessments of their coastal ecosystems are better equipped to address multiple-use issues or conflicts between competing stakeholders or user groups.

NCCOS focuses on the identification, documentation, and characterization of how people understand, interact with, and use coastal and marine environments, including special places. Community managers need NCCOS to identify and predict patterns of social, cultural, and economic behaviors and dependencies that influence how places and spaces are used, valued, managed, protected, and preserved.

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The history, culture, and economy of communities in the coastal zone are deeply intertwined with their natural resources. Climate and coastal hazard impacts can threaten property, and the fishing, tourism, and shipping industries, among others, which generate billions annually to the U.S. economy. Understanding the vulnerabilities of communities to climate and coastal hazard impacts – like sea level rise, coastal erosion, and increased frequency of severe storms – requires an integrated approach.

NCCOS generates tools and information to improve community resilience to a changing climate as well as other coastal hazards. NCCOS provides coastal communities, planners, managers, regulators, and marine industries with the social science research needed to plan, recover, and adapt to events, disturbances, and changes in ecological conditions.

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Coastal communities depend on natural resources for food, health, economic security, cultural and spiritual benefits, and recreation, in addition to the less obvious benefits such as carbon sequestration, clean water, and storm protection. Society and coastal ecosystems are intertwined, so it is important that we identify and describe the connections using the social sciences so that consequences and benefits of our policies and actions are considered and understood.

Social science refers to a range of disciplines focused on the study of people and their associated social systems. NCCOS has a team of economists and sociologists who work across our Marine Spatial EcologyStressor Impacts and Mitigation, and Coastal Change portfolios to ensure that the human element is considered in the science we conduct. NCCOS social science research focuses on the study of connections between people and the environment. We prioritize investigations into these connections within three interconnected sub-priorities of research (listed above).