Integrating people's values and perceptions into planning is essential for the successful management of natural resources. However, successful implementation of natural resources management decisions on the ground is a complex task, which requires a comprehensive understanding of a system's social and ecological linkages.
This paper investigates the relationship between sense of place and people's attitudes towards their natural environment. Sense of place contributes towards shaping peoples' beliefs, values and commitments. Here, we set out to explore how these theoretical contributions can be operationalized for natural resources management planning in the Great Barrier Reef region of Australia. We hypothesise that the region's diverse range of natural resources, conservation values and management pressures might be reflected in people's attachment to place. To tests this proposition, variables capturing socio-demographics, personal wellbeing and a potential for sense of place were collected via mail-out survey of 372 residents of the region, and tested for relationships using multivariate regression and redundancy orientation analyses. Results indicate that place of residence within the region, involvement in community activities, country of birth and the length of time respondents lived in the region are important determinants of the values assigned to factors related to the natural environment.
This type of information is readily available from National Census and thus could be incorporated into the planning of community engagement strategies early in the natural resources management planning process. A better understanding of the characteristics that allow sense of place meanings to develop can facilitate a better understanding of people's perceptions towards environmental and biodiversity issues. We suggest that the insights gained from this study can benefit environmental decision making and planning in the Great Barrier Reef region; and that sense of place is a concept worthy of further investigation elsewhere.