Current practice and future prospects for social data in coastal and ocean planning

Elodie Le Cornu, John N. Kittinger, J. Zachary Koehn, Elena M. Finkbeiner, Larry B. Crowder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


Coastal and ocean planning comprises a broad field of practice. The goals, political processes, and approaches applied to planning initiatives may vary widely. However, all planning processes ultimately require adequate information on both the biophysical and social attributes of a planning region. In coastal and ocean planning practice, there are well-established methods to assess biophysical attributes; however, less is understood about the role and assessment of social data. We conducted the first global assessment of the incorporation of social data in coastal and ocean planning. We drew on a comprehensive review of planning initiatives and a survey of coastal and ocean practitioners. There was significantly more incorporation of social data in multiuse versus conservation-oriented planning. Practitioners engaged a wide range of social data, including governance, economic, and cultural attributes of planning regions and human impacts data. Less attention was given to ecosystem services and social-ecological linkages, both of which could improve coastal and ocean planning practice. Although practitioners recognize the value of social data, little funding is devoted to its collection and incorporation in plans. Increased capacity and sophistication in acquiring critical social and ecological data for planning is necessary to develop plans for more resilient coastal and ocean ecosystems and communities. We suggest that improving social data monitoring, and in particular spatial social data, to complement biophysical data, is necessary for providing holistic information for decision-support tools and other methods. Moving beyond people as impacts to people as beneficiaries, through ecosystem services assessments, holds much potential to better incorporate the tenets of ecosystem-based management into coastal and ocean planning by providing targets for linked biodiversity conservation and human welfare outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)902-911
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Coastal and ocean planning
  • Conservation practice
  • Ecosystem services
  • Human dimensions
  • Marine protected areas
  • Marine spatial planning
  • Social data
  • Social-ecological systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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