Social values require careful consideration in land use planning

The differences between how  government, industry and the general public want to see the Kimberley region developed could be better understood by effectively identifying and mapping social values, according to researchers.

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is the process of bringing together ocean users to make informed and coordinated decisions about how to use marine resources sustainably. In a study published in the Journal of Environmental Management, researchers from Murdoch University, working on a Western Australian Marine Science Institution (WAMSI) project, confirmed MSP as an important potential conflict resolution tool for regional planning.

The WAMSI Social Values study collected social data along an extensive coastline in northwestern Australia. It carried out 167 in-depth face-to-face interviews and mapped their values. The majority of people included in the research were tourists (28.4%), Aboriginal people (21.6%) and Kimberley residents (not including Aboriginal people) (10.3%).

Value mapping identified that different locations are important for different values and may be valued for more than one reason. The results identified 17 values associated with the coastline and marine environment with biodiversity, the physical landscape, and Aboriginal culture being most valued.


Hotspot maps based on the frequencies of overlapping mapped polygons for 17 values, where red is high and grey is low.  (Moore et al)


The researchers then worked to spatially identify potential for conflict where competing values overlapped and the results were overlaid with the boundaries of nine marine protected areas in the region.

Co-author, Dr Halina Kobryn explained that they discovered three near shore marine protected areas (MPAs) had at least one third of their area exhibiting values identified by more than one group.

“There were two main categories that emerged as having the greatest level of interest by more than one group,” Dr Kobryn said. “Biodiversity – the presence of flora and fauna, especially marine fauna such as whales, as well as reefs, and migratory shorebirds – were mapped in 80% of interviews followed by the physical landscape, mapped in 77% of interviews. The coastal zone with spectacular cliffs plunging into the sea, waterfalls and isolated sandy beaches, and an atmosphere of pristine remoteness, were quintessential elements of this mapped physical value.”

Hotspot maps revealed that the entire coast is valued, in one way or another. Hotspots within MPAs include Montgomery Reef in Camden Sound Marine Park for its physical landscape, Aboriginal culture, and biodiversity, and Horizontal Falls in Horizontal Falls Marine Park for its unique experience. Montgomery Reef has exceptional tidal ranges resulting in water cascading off the Reef. At Horizontal Falls, this same extreme tidal range results in a spectacular ‘horizontal waterfall’ between two islands.


Hypothesized conflict potential based all other values and direct use consumptive values with MPA boundaries added.
(Moore et al)


Hotspots were also found outside the MPAs, especially along the Dampier Peninsula for recreation, fishing, social interaction and Aboriginal culture. The Buccaneer Archipelago, to the southwest of Camden Sound, was the other obvious hotspot outside of MPAs, identified for a number of values.

“The high interest area on the west coast of the Dampier Peninsula was the site of a proposed gas facility,” Dr Kobryn said. “We also found that two of the three smallest MPAs closest to the population centres of Broome and Derby had more than three quarters of their area of interest for more than one value.”

“Overall our research confirmed results from similar studies in other countries where the potential for differences between groups over development in these waters are likely to be driven by values placed on the interference between biological values such as biodiversity and consumptive values such as commercial fishing ,” Dr Kobryn said.

Moore, S.A., G. Brown, H. Kobryn and J. Strickland-Munro. 2017. Identifying conflict potential in a coastal and marine environment using participatory mapping. Journal of Environmental Management 197: 706-718. doi:


The $30 million Kimberley Marine Research Program is funded through major investment supported by $12 million from the Western Australian government’s Kimberley Science and Conservation Strategy co-invested by the WAMSI partners and supported by the Traditional Owners of the Kimberley.


Kimberley Marine Research Program