For the past two years I’ve had the great pleasure to work with scientists, business owners and other local community members passionate about protecting what they most value about Mosquito Lagoon in Florida. This NSF-funded work with our interdisciplinary partners included talking with different groups of people to understand where they feel most connected to the Mosquito Lagoon and why in order to inform ecosystem restoration priorities. The idea behind this is that deciding what to restore (and how to restore it) is based on human values and preferences, so restoration success relies on understanding both the social and physical characteristics of a place.

To learn about people’s sense of place in Mosquito Lagoon, we held 16 focus groups with 85 people including restoration volunteers, fishermen, business owners, informal educators, and decision makers to ask about their priorities and perceptions of restoration. With our incredible team of undergraduate researchers, we also surveyed over 1000 people with our online mapping application to learn which places people felt most emotionally attached to and why.

Here is what we learned:

  1. Throughout the course of this work we heard that people value restoration not only for its ecological impacts, but also for the educational opportunities it provides.
  2. People liked restoration to be visible, in high-traffic places where they could point it out to their children and talk about it.
  3. People don’t all talk about restoration the same way. What some call “restoration” others called “resiliency” or “preservation” or “enhancement.” Personal perceptions and definitions of these words influences people’s feelings and/or support for each.
  4. People wanted more than just words… they wanted to see ACTION. We wanted to help with that.

In February 2019 we held a listening session where restoration scientists on our team learned about community members’ priorities to integrate them in upcoming oyster reef and living shoreline projects. Based on what they heard from attendees, all the new oyster sites restored in Mosquito Lagoon, were in highly visible locations, as the group suggested. Our team’s restoration scientists also met with Canaveral National Seashore staff to discuss enhancing signage about oyster reef restoration for educational purposes.

Some people also mentioned concerns about the plastic used in oyster mat restoration, complementing our team’s existing quest to find alternatives to plastic. Because of this, 3 of the 5 oyster reef restoration sites were made of a new biodegradable material from BESE Products in the Netherlands (potato chip waste) to better understand their effectiveness and feasibility for future restoration, especially at 14 times the cost of the traditional method. 1400 feet of living shoreline were also stabilized this summer in areas suggested at our listening session, and scientists are working with Canaveral National Park to replace educational signage there.

In all, our work emphasized the importance of connecting science and society, acknowledging that science does not happen in a vacuum.  Communities and scientists are passionate and committed in their quest to protect natural resources. It is important for these groups to continue to collaborate and listen to each other for restoration to provide the most benefits to the most people. Our efforts are an example of how this collaborative approach can improve outcomes for everyone involved.

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