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Barriers to incorporating ecosystem services in coastal conservation practice: the case of blue carbon

Aaron L. Strong, Environmental Studies Program, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY, USA; Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA
Nicole M. Ardoin, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA


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Over the past decade, the ecosystem services frame has had a tremendous and increasing influence on environmental governance and decision making. Yet the ecosystem services governance literature reveals key tensions related to scale, stakeholder identification and engagement, knowledge of ecosystem services, and dissemination of the framework. Those challenges remain unresolved in policy makers’, nonprofit managers’, and even researchers’ understanding of how this emergent framework functions when put into practice. Understanding empirically the factors that influence uptake of this concept by stakeholders in a variety of contexts remains a key gap in the literature. Using coastal blue carbon as a case study, we assess barriers to and enabling factors for the uptake of the ecosystem service concept among stakeholders: local, place-based coastal conservation organizations. Through semi-structured interviews with individuals of coastal conservation organizations in two U.S. regions, we collected data that, upon analysis, suggest a typology of five barriers to action on blue carbon. Those are barriers related to (1) structural issues (time, finances, and access to other resources); (2) expertise and/or technical abilities; (3) politics and political beliefs; (4) personal motivation and identity; and (5) localism. Our results also suggest two necessary conditions for action within a local organization: a connection to a research laboratory and an awareness of, or connection to, a national backbone organization. As a whole, our work makes clear that, in the United States, the concept of ecosystem services remains far from the mainstream for local, place-based coastal conservation organizations. We also find specific challenges to realizing the promises of this emergent framework.

Key words

carbon; climate mitigation; coasts; conservation; ecosystem services; institutions; sense of place; social-ecological systems

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087