Research Feature: Developing Social Indicators for PREP Estuaries

New PREP Led Research Project: Developing Social Indicators for the Piscataqua Region Estuaries
By: Jill Farrell, PREP Community Impact Program Manager
and Simone Barley-Greenfield, NH DES Coastal Program/NOAA Coastal Management Fellow

The NOAA Coastal Management Fellowship Program matches top-notch recently graduated Masters degree recipients with state Coastal Zone Management Programs for a two-year fellowship project focused on some aspect of coastal management. NH was lucky enough to receive one fellow 2 years ago, Kirsten Howard. Her project, The NH Estuary Spatial Planning Project, is in its final stages. So, last winter PREP with our partners at NH DES Coastal Program,Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Plymouth State Universityand NH EPSCoR developed another project proposal to submit to the Fellowship program with the hopes that we could receive another fantastic fellow here in New Hampshire. And lucky for us we did! In fact, the NH proposal was #1 in the country!


Jill from PREP, Simone Barley-Greenfield and Steve Couture from the NH DES Coastal Program at the Fellowship matching workshop in Charleston, SC in April. 

You can read the full project proposal here. But the short version is that  we’re endeavoring to develop a set of social indicators that PREP will monitor and report on alongside the suite of environmental indicators in our 2018 State of Our Estuaries Report and beyond. This Social Indicators Project builds on the2013 NH Water and Watersheds Social Survey and implements another priority set out in the PREP Social Science Research Agenda that was developed during the last State of Our Estuaries process. 

From the 2013 Water & Watersheds Survey – Activities noted by survey respondents

What’s a social indicator you ask? Well, a social indicator is any factor that can affect human well-being, quality of life, economics or sustainability (e.g. access to local food, access to public land, state income from local fisheries, etc.). PREP has monitored a robust set of environmental indicators since our inception in 1995 (e.g. number of oysters, acres of eelgrass, bacteria levels) but we’ve never researched the socio-ecological connections, those actions, behaviors, values or perceptions that may or may not impact the environmental indicators.
Not an easy task, studying human behavior, but in order to improve deteriorating conditions in our estuaries – you know, get all the indicators in orange to blue (see left) – we need to better understand how humans derive benefit, both the tangible and intangible,  from our estuaries and in turn how behaviors, values and human contributions can help improve our estuaries.  Up to the task and full of energy and intelligence is Simone Barley-Greenfield. Simone grew up in the Puget Sound region of Washington State and attended Stanford University. Simone selected the NH project as her #1 and NH selected Simone as our #1 – it was a perfect match! Simone joined the NH DES Coastal Program staff in late August and she has lots to share about her first month in New Hampshire and her first month of work on this project-  please welcome Simone! Also, Simone is our Clean Water Champion this month so check out her responses to those questions! 



My first month as a NOAA Fellow has absolutely whooshed by!  So far, I have worked on the portion of the project my mentors and I have deemed “Operation Sponge Mode:” the phase where I absorb as much information as I can about the socio-ecological landscape of the region. I have traveled from Portsmouth, to Concord, to Exeter, and more, sitting down with numerous stakeholders in the watershed to chat about not only the work that they do in the watershed but also their perspective on the relationships between communities in New Hampshire and the ecosystems that support them.

Hands & Water
The connections of humans and water are intricate and dynamic, social indicators begin to unpack some of those connections.

The diversity of insight has blown me away, but I have also picked up on several themes of values and concerns many stakeholders express during our conversations.  So many factors influence how people relate to the watershed, be it the town in which they reside, how long they have lived in the region, or the trail they use to walk their dog. An economic vein runs through every conversation I have, from the allure of further development to bring business to the region to the desire to avoid increased waste water treatment costs by investing early in nature-based water quality protection.

Most importantly, socio-ecological identity runs deep in New Hampshire residents.  Every individual I have interviewed alludes to the importance of existence value.  People in New Hampshire identify with vibrant natural spaces.  Knowing the forests, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and beaches are out there, thriving, is part of what makes living in New Hampshire so wonderful.  To lose that peace of mind would take a toll on quality of life in New Hampshire.

How residents and visitors to the Seacoast use and enjoy the waters is an important social indicator of quality of life and human well-being.

I still have many more interviews to complete, but, with quite a few under my belt, my goal is to broaden my perspective of this region by engaging stakeholders from completely different sectors.  Moving forward, I aim to speak with developers, municipal professionals, economists, and business leaders to gain an understanding of their vision for this region as well as their perspective on ecological and economic tradeoffs. Bringing their values and concerns into the mix will help me to create indicators that resonate with as many stakeholders as possible..

I cannot wait to keep moving forward with this project, and I love living in New Hampshire!  The days have already changed from warm and steamy to chilly and crisp, and, while I have enjoyed spending days lounging at the beach, I look forward to getting out into the mountains to watch the leaves change.  Everywhere I turn I see apples trees laden with fruit, a comforting connection between this new home and my homeland of Washington State.  If you have any recommendations for autumn hikes, definitely let me know!
You can connect with Simone at  or (603) 559-0021.

PREP is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program, a joint program between local, state and federal agencies established under the Clean Water Act with the goal of protecting and enhancing nationally significant estuarine resources. PREP is supported in part by an EPA matching grant and is housed within the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering at the University of New Hampshire.