Abstract: Human populations worldwide are highly reliant on the ocean and its resources for sustenance, livelihoods, and cultural continuity. Human activities in ocean environments have, however, resulted in significant impacts to ocean health and diminishing returns to society from these ecosystems. Despite broad recognition of the human role in ocean degradation, the vast majority of research focuses on the biophysical rather than the human dimensions of coral reef ecosystems, limiting our understanding of social relationships with these environments and potential solutions for managing toward sustainability. In this talk, I provide an overview of social-ecological relationships, with a focus on coral reefs in the Hawaiian Islands. First, I report findings from historical research on coral reef fisheries, starting first at the species level and then aggregating upwards to comprehensive reconstructions of human-environmental relationships, highlighting the implications of historical research for current management challenges. Next, I shift to research on contemporary social-ecological relationships, focusing on data-poor, tropical fisheries in indigenous Hawaiian communities. I will share novel methods and findings from participatory fishery assessments and recent efforts to quantitatively link fisheries ecology, ecosystem services, and community wellbeing at the local level. Finally, I will discuss my research on marine resource governance and policy, including research assessing the challenges and opportunities for social data in fisheries assessments and planning, social and ecological benefits of community-based and co-management governance approaches, and translating concepts from social-ecological systems research into actionable strategies that managers can implement. I will conclude with my own personal views on how integrated social-ecological research can help manage coral reefs toward more sustainable outcomes, and roles researchers can play to ‘move beyond the science’ in working toward solutions.
Biography: John N. (“Jack”) Kittinger is an early career fellow with a background as a human geographer and coastal ecologist with broad interests in understanding and advancing solutions to complex problems that face society and the ocean environment. His research explores how social, economic and cultural factors influence the ways in which people use, perceive and govern natural resources, with a particular emphasis on using applied social science to inform environmental management, planning and policy. He has extensive experience coordinating multidisciplinary teams in cross-cutting research and frequently works with other researchers on social-ecological systems research. Many of Kittinger’s research projects have focused on applying the results of basic research to community planning and management, and he often collaborates with scientists, managers and community stakeholders in knowledge-to-action partnerships to bridge science to policy and practice. His current research focuses on linking ecosystem services and food security to community well-being, collaborative planning and resource co-management, and social resilience and vulnerability to environmental and social change. Kittinger works primarily in Hawai‘i, the Pacific Islands and the Asia-Pacific region.
Jack Kittinger received his Ph.D. from the Department of Geography at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, his M.S. in marine science and environmental studies from the University of San Diego and his B.S. in biology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.