Numerous studies have explored the “shifting baseline syndrome” (SBS), which suggests that individual perceptions of environmental health are formed by comparing the environment to a “baseline” from the past. Understanding social perceptions of environmental conditions, especially where they differ from ecological assessments, can help guide environmental management efforts. In this study we compared ecological assessments of coral reef health with perceptions of reef health from surveyed residents in five villages in Solomon Islands and Fiji. Comparative analysis suggests that respondents from Solomon Islands perceived their reefs as being degraded, yet based on ecological measurements actually had healthier reefs, while in Fiji fewer people perceived their reefs to be declining in health, yet ecological measurement showed them to be more degraded than Solomon Islands reefs. We found no evidence of baselines “shifting” relative to respondent age in this instance and suggest that these differential baselines and the inverse relationship between local perceptions and ecological measurements may be a result of: (1) differences in the rate of environmental change experienced at local scales; and (2) may also be related to differences in respondent perceptions of “quality of life” at each site. If the success of conservation approaches such as marine protected areas (MPAs) are dependent on local social consensus that natural resources are diminished or degraded, then tracking broader social indicators like “quality of life” and “rates of change” (real and perceived) alongside ecological assessments of environmental health may prove beneficial to conservation practitioners.
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Vol. 67 • No. 3