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Changing Hawaiian Seascapes and Their Management Implications


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Hawaiian shorelines and near-shore waters have long been used for cultural activities, food gathering and fishing, and recreation. As seascapes are physically altered by changing climate, the ways in which people experience these environments will likely change as well. Local perspectives of how seascapes are changing over time can help managers better understand and manage these areas for both natural persistence and human use. For this project, researchers conducted interviews and surveys of surfers and other ocean users to gather observations and perceptions of change over time at Hilo Bay, Hawaiʻi. They combined these results with historical data on public beach use and biophysical data from monitoring buoys and weather stations [...]

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Principal Investigator :
Noelani Puniwai
Funding Agency :
Pacific Islands CSC
CMS Group :
Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASC) Program

Attached Files

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“Photo release - Noelani Puniwai”
206.65 KB application/pdf
“Honoli'i Beach, Hawai'i Island - Credit: Noelani Puniwai”
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The study of seascapes, the area where humans interact with the ocean, and particularly, how people ascribe meaning to their observations, interactions, and relationships to the sea is directly pertinent to the management of our ocean resources. Through our interviews with respected ocean users we learned the difficulties and potential of mapping ocean currents and ocean use areas and how these ocean experts have perceived change in the environment. In Hilo, Hawaiʻi, we interviewed ocean experts (people recommended for the ocean knowledge), and surfers of all ages and experience at Honoliʻi. We also collected physical environmental data for Hilo Bay and ocean user presence counts for beaches within this county. Understanding the dynamics of the seascape in a manner that supports management decision-making requires us to understand the complex interactions between human, biological, and physical processes. We mapped the changes in oceanic conditions through time as monitored by environmental sensors and the perception of this change as reflected in personal interactions with a site through time. Changes in the environment cannot be perceived only through the measurement of single variables, but must be placed within a social context of complex changes. Through the interviews we can see a pattern of seacape delineation, scales of interactions, and personal connections with the ocean. Ocean experts’ spatial observations are determined by their activities on the ocean as well as ecological boundaries. Change over time in a specific place is defined by biological and physical changes, external social pressures, and individual reflections, preventing ocean observers from specifically identifying the effects of climate change yet allowing their connection to place to continue. Exposing managers to the application of alternative data sources and particularly human perceptions expands the ability of managers to align discussions around scales relevant for ocean users.

Project Extension

typeFY 14 Grant

Budget Extension


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