Picture by Kevin Weng, VA Institute of Marine Science and UH Fisheries Ecology Research Lab
Coastal zones are popular recreational areas that substantially contribute to social welfare. Tourism is a critical economic driver for Hawai’i and specifically the western part of the island of Maui. Just in 2017, tourists to Maui spent $4.68 billion, representing over 5% of Hawai’i’s GDP.
West Maui’s coral reefs are strongly valued by both tourists and residents for providing benefits to Hawai’i’s economy, food resources, recreation, and coastal storm protection. However, they are threatened by land-based pollution, fishing, and climate change.
In order to help protect and improve the quality of West Maui’s coral reefs for snorkelers, researchers from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, U.S. Geological Survey, University of Rhode Island, and the Basque Center for Climate Change explored how snorkelers’ experience would be affected by separate and combined land and marine management actions in the region.
Managers can use information about specific environmental features that people value, and how these might change under different management scenarios, to spatially target actions to areas of high current or potential value.
Kenneth Bagstad (U.S. Geological Survey, ARIES team member): k.Explorer provided a tool to link spatial data to a Bayesian Belief network (BBN) model, understanding how land- and marine-based restoration scenarios can improve recreational quality for snorkelers on West Maui’s coral reefs.
By using a BBN and a spatially explicit ecosystem services model, they simulated the attractiveness of a site for recreation by combining snorkeler preferences for coastal features with expert opinions on ecological dynamics, snorkeler behavior, and management actions.
A choice experiment with snorkelers elucidated their preferences for sites with better ecological and water-quality conditions. These preferences helped guide construction of the BBN model.
Kenneth Bagstad (U.S. Geological Survey, ARIES team member): Results obtained from both the snorkelers’ survey and the scenario evaluation can be used to guide restoration on both land and sea to maximize ecosystem services’ returns in West Maui.
Improving coastal water quality through sediment runoff and cesspool effluent reductions (land management), and enhancing coral reef ecosystem conditions (marine management) positively affected overall snorkeling attractiveness across the study area, but with differential restoration activities providing varying effectiveness at specific sites.
The highest improvements were attained through joint land-sea management, driven by strong efforts to increase fish abundance and reduce sediment. Specific needs at different beaches can help guide management activities to restore coral reefs using a ridge-to-reef approach.