Socio-cultural values: their integration and importance in marine and coastal planning and policy


Marine and coastal ecosystems are among the most productive globally, providing a range of goods and services which underpin societal wellbeing and prosperity. Over the last two decades, there have been significant attempts to understand the type and extent of benefits provided by the marine and coastal environment, through the lens of ‘ecosystem services’ and ‘natural capital’.  This has resulted in the development of conceptual frameworks, as well as attempts to undertake assessments globally. Thus far, the ecological and economic evidence base for marine and coastal management and policy has tended to be relatively well-developed. However, this cannot be said for socio-cultural values associated with the sea. Socio-cultural values are the mainly immaterial values placed on the marine and coastal environment by people. They are shaped by people’s socio-cultural context and the socialisation processes therein, as well as their perceptions, knowledge and held values (e.g. principles and virtues). Socio-cultural values have been shown to generate sense of place and identity and contribute to perceived quality of life and human wellbeing.

Socio-cultural values are often intangible and non-monetised and are therefore commonly underweighted or overlooked in decision-making. Trade-offs among the different benefits and values requires management decisions among competing options to be informed by the multiple values society attribute to the benefits provided by the marine and coastal environment. If socio-cultural values are not being considered or undervalued within decision-making, this may distort resource allocation towards areas or activities which return an observable market value. Growing evidence suggests that socio-cultural values and their associated benefits are being threatened by changing marine activities. Disregarding socio-cultural values in decision-making may led to irreversible loss of key benefits. There is now a pressing need to (i) understand how socio-cultural values are currently accounted for within management plans and policies and (ii) identify opportunities for integration into future decision-making processes, across multiple scales and policy contexts. Accounting for this type of evidence in decision-making will be essential to navigating the complex socio-ecological challenges facing the ocean.  

Project aims

The overarching goal of this project will be to study the role and importance of socio-cultural values for wellbeing and examine how they can be better accounted for in marine management plans and policy.  The project will take a case study approach, focusing on the marine and coastal environment in NSW. The PhD will be jointly supervised by scientists from ANU, CSIRO, UTAS and the NSW government.  

This work could take a number of forms, and the specific research questions and thesis topic will be co-developed jointly with the successful applicant.  However, examples of themes that this project could explore include, but are not limited to:

  • Assessing how socio-cultural values are currently accounted for within Australian marine management plans and policies.
  • Identifying opportunities for integrating socio-cultural values into decision-making processes.
  • Assessing the socio-cultural values attached to MPAs.
  • Examining how participatory mapping can be to visualise socio-cultural values and whether it can be used to aid decision-making.


Dr Chris Cvitanovic, Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, ANU, and Centre for Marine Socioecology.

Dr Rebecca Shellock, Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, ANU.

Dr Carol Martin, Department of Primary Industries, NSW Government.


Admission to a Doctor of Philosophy degree at ANU requires:

  1. An Australian Bachelor degree with at least Second Class or its international equivalent, or
  2. Another degree with a significant research/thesis component that may be assessed as equivalent to paragraph (1), or
  3. A combination of qualifications, research publications and/or professional experience related to the field of study that may be assessed as equivalent to paragraph (1).

Further information relating to eligibility can be found on the ANUs website:

The candidate

The successful applicant will have a passion for solving modern day sustainability challenges by connecting science with policy and practice, particularly within marine settings.  They will have a background in a relevant discipline (e.g. marine social science, natural resource management, environmental economics, environmental psychology, science engagement, etc.), strong interpersonal skills, strong writing skills, and be able to work effectively as part of a small team and also independently.  An understanding of social science research methods will be highly regarded in the application process, but not essential. The project will require travel for fieldwork in NSW, so a willingness to travel is also required.


The successful applicant with be based in the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at the ANU. Scholarships are available for both domestic and international applicants, and CPAS will work with the successful applicant to guide them through the scholarship process.

To apply

To be considered for this position, in the first instance please forward a current CV (2-page maximum) and short cover letter (1-page maximum) to Dr Chris Cvitanovic ( and Dr Rebecca Shellock ( In the cover letter, be sure to let us know why you are the perfect candidate based on the skills outlined above.  Shortlisted candidates will then be invited to skype to discuss their applications further. 

Applications will be assessed on a rolling basis as they are received, and this position will remain open until filled.  

Background reading

Martin, C.L., Momtaz, S., Gaston, T. and Moltschaniwskyj, N.A., 2016. A systematic quantitative review of coastal and marine cultural ecosystem services: current status and future research. Marine Policy, 74, pp.25-32.

Gee, K., Kannen, A., Adlam, R., Brooks, C., Chapman, M., Cormier, R., Fischer, C., Fletcher, S., Gubbins, M., Shucksmith, R. and Shellock, R., 2017. Identifying culturally significant areas for marine spatial planning. Ocean & Coastal Management, 136, pp.139-147.

van Putten, I.E., Plagányi, É.E., Booth, K., Cvitanovic, C., Kelly, R., Punt, A.E. and Richards, S.A., 2018. A framework for incorporating sense of place into the management of marine systems. Ecology and Society, 23(4).