Human well-being is dependent on the range of goods and services provided by wellfunctioning ecosystems. Changes in the condition and function of these ecosystems therefore have the potential to impact on human well-being. However, the extent and magnitude of these impacts arising from the relationship between environmental condition and well-being has not yet been quantified. As a result, natural resource management has suffered from the inability to measure the potential benefits arising from ecosystem management or improvement (while the costs associated with management are readily identifiable). Aspects of human well-being that may be affected by changes in ecosystem condition include human health, economic production and social cohesion.
The aims of the project were therefore to develop a conceptual model identifying potential links between ecosystem condition and human well-being; measure the impacts of changes in ecosystem condition on social, health and economic aspects of well-being; and develop a simple dynamic model that could be used to examine the integrated impacts of changes in ecosystem condition on those aspects of well-being over time. The project was focused on the coastal waterways of Pumicestone catchment in south-east Queensland and the Douglas region in north Queensland.
A conceptual model based on existing literature was developed to show potential links between coastal waterway condition and human well-being. Impacts on social aspects of wellbeing were assessed by conducting surveys of residents in the study areas. The surveys incorporated indicators of sense of place, social relationships, social cohesion, perceptions of the quality of local waterways and recreational use of these waterways. Analysis of survey results showed that recreational use of waterways was significantly affected by residents' proximity to the waterways and their perceptions of waterway quality. Recreational visits to coastal waterways increased residents' attachment to their local area, and also increased the amount of social contact between residents and, therefore, social networks. Place attachment and social networks were significant determinants of self-assessed quality of life. Residents' willingness to contribute to improving their local area and rates of volunteerism were also influenced by their attachment to place, providing a potential link back to environmental quality. This study provided the first such analysis of links between ecosystem condition and social well-being.
Health risks arising from coastal waterways include the risk of contracting gastroenteritis from water with high bacterial concentrations, the risk of illness arising from consumption of contaminated seafood, and the risk of contracting dermatitis arising from contact with toxic algae. In the Pumicestone region an analysis of enterococci data indicated that at most recreational sites there was a 5-10 % risk of swimmers experiencing gastrointestinal illness. Toxicant concentrations in cultured shellfish in Pumicestone were all below risk guidelines, although concentrations of zinc and arsenic were close to the guideline and could pose a risk to people consuming large amounts of shellfish. An estimated 639 people in the Pumicestone catchment experienced severe skin irritation associated with swimming during the toxic Lyngbya majuscula bloom in 2001. Health risks from bacterial and shellfish contamination and algal blooms were considered very low in the Douglas region, due to the relative lack of development and low population. In both study areas, the average amount of exercise undertaken was positively related to recreation at coastal waterways.
Industries likely to be affected by changes in coastal waterway condition include commercial fishing, aquaculture and tourism. Impacts on the regional economy of each study area that would arise as a result of a reduction in these industries following a decline in ecosystem condition were calculated using regional input-output models developed for each study area. A 15 % decrease in aquaculture and fishing, and a 10 % decrease in tourism in Pumicestone and a 20 % decrease in tourism in Douglas would result in a decrease in gross regional production of more than 2 % in Pumicestone and more than 5 % in Douglas.
A dynamic model incorporating social, health and economic impacts of changes in coastal waterway condition was developed to enable assessment of the impacts of different management scenarios on well-being. The dynamic model incorporates feedbacks between the different sectors which could not be assessed using the more traditional approaches. Three scenarios were run; continual environmental degradation, continual environmental improvement, and continual degradation with delayed improvement. In view of the continued increase in coastal populations all of these scenarios are possible. The deterioration scenario resulted in a decrease in indicators of well-being, and the improvement scenario resulted in improvements in indicators of well-being. The impacts of the delayed management scenario were more complicated in that improvements to quality of life indicators were delayed and did not occur even after improvements in waterway condition. This suggests that immediate, rather than delayed, management actions to improve waterway condition are more efficient at also improving quality of life.
This study is one of the first to investigate links between human well-being and the condition of natural environments, and provides the first quantitative support that the quality of the natural environment can have implications for well-being and human quality of life. As such, it offers strong support for continued and accelerated efforts to improve the condition of natural environments; the argument that improving the natural environment must entail a loss of human welfare can no longer be supported. Management efforts should be applied to all areas, as people are most affected by the condition of systems close to them. It must be recognised that 'sacrificing' areas in very poor condition does have negative impacts on people living near those waterways. Ideally, managers should be able to use assessments like this to quantify the impacts of management actions or potential developments on the wellbeing and quality of life of the human population associated with the ecosystem. This thesis provides a conceptual framework and simple model that can be applied for this purpose in coastal systems throughout Australia, or modified to suit other types of natural resource management issues. Application of this type of integrated modelling has the potential to dramatically improve understanding of linked human-ecological systems and therefore contribute to continued improvement of management decisions.