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NOAA Coastal Services Center


Incorporating the "People Factor" in Oceans and Coasts

People on the beach


As might be expected for an organization with the middle name of “ocean,” the National Ocean Service (NOS) is heavily involved in the biological and physical aspects of our oceans and coasts. But did you know that NOS also is involved in social science research and applications?

Simply put, social science is the process of explaining, describing, and predicting how individuals and groups act and behave. Social science is important to the work of NOS because some of the most challenging issues facing our oceans and coasts involve the relationships between people and the environment.

As an office within NOS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center has developed many social science tools to help managers make balanced decisions. In this feature, we look at a few of these tools.

Coastal County Snapshots

screenshot of Coastal County Snapshots Tool

The Coastal County Snapshots tool provides local officials with a quick look at a county’s demographics, infrastructure, and environment within the flood zone.

The Coastal County Snapshots tool provides local officials with a quick look at a county’s demographics, infrastructure, and environment within the flood zone using data derived from NOAA land cover, the 2000 U.S. Census, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hazards U.S. Multi-Hazard site. Information on critical facilities, population characteristics, and land cover are provided though illustrative charts and diagrams. Helpful guidance on interpreting the data is included on each page. Because the same information is provided for each county, the data can be easily compared. In addition, the data can be downloaded in PDF format to enable easy sharing and learning about next steps communities can take to plan for hazards.

Social Science Tools Series

cover of a report

Many coastal managers have limited backgrounds in the social sciences. To aid them, the Center developed an ever-expanding publication series, “Social Science Tools for Coastal Programs.” The purpose of this series is to bring information to coastal managers on the use of social science tools in their fields of work. A succinct synopsis of major concepts and ideas, reviewed by experts in their respective fields, are summarized in a format that makes complex topics clear and easy to understand. Additional resources for further study and research are provided. Current tools include Introduction to Stakeholder Participation, Introduction to Survey Design & Delivery, Introduction to Economics for Coastal Managers, Introduction to Conducting Focus Groups, Stakeholder Engagement Strategies for Participatory Mapping, Introduction to Planning and Facilitating Effective Meetings, and Understanding Risk Behavior.


Managing Visitor Use to Coastal Areas

people on a boat

The NOAA Coastal Services Center provides training to help managers develop plans to protect coastal areas that are used for recreation.

As demands increase on coastal resources, managers are increasingly challenged to balance the use of these resources with their protection. The Center offers a two-day training that helps managers identify visitor-caused impacts to biological and cultural resources and develop a plan for addressing these impacts.

Course participants learn to identify visitor-use problems and root causes, establish measurable indicators and standards for visitor experiences, select appropriate management tactics, and implement monitoring and management actions.


The projects highlighted above are just a few of the many tools developed by the Center that combine natural science with social science, to help managers address the issues facing coastal communities. From increased development in coastal areas to the impacts of harmful algal blooms on human health, many of the most pressing problems facing coastal areas lie at the interface between people and the environment. In addressing these issues, social science is one tool NOS is using to help coastal communities, economies, and ecosystems stay healthy and sustainable.