Restarting the Dialogue About Coastal Management Policies: Understanding Perceptions of Environmental Change Among Residents of the Outer Banks

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Thursday, 6 February 2014: 8:30 AM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Emily Ayscue, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC; and C. B. Avenarius

The introduction of North Carolina State House Bill 819 that proposed to modify coastal management policies regarding potential sea level rise along the coast indicates divergence in perceptions of environmental change between local stakeholders and scientists. Together with discussions about off road driving permits and the protection of breeding grounds for piping plovers these developments reveal a deep distrust in the objectivity of science in informing environmental decision-making.

To restart the dialogue on adequate responses to imminent environmental threats a team comprised of an anthropology professor and five graduate students trained in ethnographic research methods collected data on local knowledge and opinions about environmental change. We also asked local residents about their preferred type of sources and channels for information on environmental policies and weather events. Preliminary findings confirm that residents of the Outer Banks of North Carolina are not oblivious to environmental change. Rather, they notice evidence of shifts in their surrounding natural habitat and develop their own explanations for the occurrence, the meaning, and the consequences of their observations. In addition, they are keenly aware that they are tasked to negotiate a compromise between the need to preserve the pristine landscape and the need to ensure the economic vitality of their region.

However, perceptions about the cause of ecological changes and their impact on the longevity of both the natural and economic environment of the Outer Banks differ less by age, gender or socio-economic background of local residents than by their personal values and attitudes regarding the place of human beings within the natural ecosystem.

Findings from this community service project are expected to make a contribution to the dialogue between local policy makers and their constituency and between scientists and the local community members they advise.