Restoring ecosystems, restoring community: socioeconomic and cultural dimensions of a community-based coral reef restoration project

John N. Kittinger, Trisann M. Bambico, Dwayne Minton, Alyssa Miller, Manuel Mejia, Nahaku Kalei, Bradley Wong, Edward W. Glazier

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Environmental restoration projects are commonly touted for their ecological positives, but such projects can also provide significant socioeconomic and cultural benefits to local communities. We assessed the social dimensions of a large-scale coral reef restoration project in Maunalua Bay, O‘ahu, where >1.32 million kg of invasive marine macroalgae was removed from 11 hectares (90,000 m2; 23 acres) of impacted coral reef in an urbanized setting. We interviewed 131 community stakeholders and analyzed both quantitative and qualitative data to assess human uses of the environment, assess perceptions of environmental health, and characterize social dimensions (+/−) associated with the invasive algae removal effort. Results indicate substantial direct economic benefits, including the creation of more than 60+ jobs, benefiting more than 250 individuals and 81 households. The project helped develop a skilled workforce in a local business dedicated to environmental restoration and increased the capacity of community organizations to address other threats to reefs and watersheds. Other major benefits include revitalization of Native Hawaiian cultural practices and traditions and the successful use of harvested invasive algae as compost by local farmers. Our results show the project heightened community awareness and a broader sense of stewardship in the area, creating enabling conditions for collective community action. Our findings show that restoration projects that explicitly incorporate efforts to build community awareness, involvement, and a shared responsibility for a site may ultimately create the long-term capacity for sustainable stewardship programs. We conclude by discussing lessons learned for engaging productively with communities in environmental restoration and stewardship, which remains a central focus in conservation worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)301-313
Number of pages13
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Community-based conservation
  • Coral reefs
  • Ecosystem services
  • Restoration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change


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