Negotiating uncertainty: Framing attitudes, prioritizing issues, and finding consensus in the coral reef environment management “crisis”
Environmental problems are becoming increasingly unwieldy, particularly those which are highly debated because of their political and financial consequences and have been termed as in “crisis”. In coral reef environments, these considerations spill into decisions on mitigation of reef decline and attendant questions of territorial and resource-access rights. Historical foundations of reef science show that early applications of reef inquiries centered on environmental connection and inevitably led to establishing not only the baseline of reef ecosystems, but also contributed to the evolution of conservation crisis in this environment. This work applies Q-methodology towards determining attitudes, prioritizing statements and finding consensus regarding management issues that are tied to the science of coral reef environments and their conservation “crisis”. This work delineates the social construction of attitudes, perceptions, and foundations of coral conservation science by examining the scientifically-grounded statements that constitute conservation debates. Study participants were comprised of the coral reef science and conservation professional network. The Q-sample (n = 43) was structured around some central debates over the dilemmas and strategies of reef management and decline-mitigation, both recent and long-running. Four attitudes or viewpoints were isolated in terms of their preferred management models, geographic perspectives and the role scientific findings play within these core beliefs. These can be generally described as Community and Locally-centered Humanists, Scientific Idealists, Skeptical and Utilitarian Pragmatists, and Politically-oriented Positivists. Evaluating agreement about central issues showed a high degree of consensus regarding the relative importance of community input in the role of successful reef management while the highest degree of contention was seen in scalar issues such as human-environment feedback systems that are inherent in solving environmental crises.