Peter Edwards

Economist and Social Science Coordinator
Peter Edwards

Coral Reef Conservation Program (NOAA)

In recent years, my primary driver has been the need to improve the link between biological and ecological sciences and the human dimension -- that is, social science, the science and policy link.


  • BSc., Zoology, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica
  • M.Phil., Marine Sciences, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica
  • Ph.D., Marine Studies, University of Delaware, College of Marine and Earth Sciences

Learn more about the Coral Reef Conservation Program

What is your current job and what does it entail? 

I am a federal contractor and serve as the economist and social science coordinator for NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP). The CRCP is housed within the National Ocean Service, Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM). My primary activities involve leading a team responsible for implementing the social science component of the program's National Coral Reef Monitoring Plan. This component of the monitoring plan includes conducting household surveys of residents in U.S. coral reef jurisdictions (Florida, American Samoa, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hawai'i, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands) over the next three to four years. This data collection effort will gather a variety of human dimensions or socio-economic variables relevant to coral reef resource management. I also serve as the global coordinator for the Global Socioeconomic Monitoring Initiative for Coastal Management (SocMon). This initiative provides technical and financial support to non-U.S. countries involved in small scale localized socioeconomic data collection in coastal areas and people affected by Marine Protected Areas. I am also involved in a number of other NOAA wide projects, including a survey of subsistence fishers in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as working on a team dedicated to assisting NOAA with incorporating ecosystem services (and their values) into the agency's operations and research activities.

What was the key factor in your career decision? 

I am born and raised in Jamaica, which is a tropical island in the Caribbean. As a child, much of my summers were spent at the beach and with my grandparents in the rural inland areas. This influenced my career path as you can see from my academic training. My career has evolved over time from specializing in biology, tropical ecology and marine sciences and coastal management to my present vocation as an environmental economist and social scientist. In recent years, my primary driver has been the need to improve the link between biological and ecological sciences and the human dimension -- that is, social science, the science and policy link. Our natural resources, including oceans, coasts and atmosphere, have been impacted over time by humans. So while it is critical to devote time and money to better understand the processes and changes that are occurring in these environments, we also need to understand the impact that society and human beings have on our natural resources as well as understand how these threats or changes will affect society. If we are aware of people's preferences, their motivations for their behavior, and their level of information about oceans and coastal issues, then agencies such as NOAA can improve how we inform and educate the public as part of our natural resource management strategies. For example, we do need to continue biological monitoring of coral reefs, however if we don't monitor what people are doing to impact the reef, and if we don't understand why or how best to communicate with the public, then biological scientists may simply be monitoring reefs as they slowly disappear. My decision to focus on being trained as a natural resource economist was also due to a need to acquire these skills in order to demonstrate that there are elements in nature that actually have an economic value. This is because if we ignore these economic benefits of nature then we will continue to over exploit these precious natural resources.

What do like most about your career? 

I most enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of my work. My formative background as a marine scientist and now as a social scientist/economist means I am able to work across various disciplines to try and fuse ecological and social sciences together. I also enjoy working with various teams of committed individuals both domestically and internationally.

What do you like least about your career? 

Perhaps the only thing I can think of is that I am further away from the field and outdoors. My current role involves a lot of coordination, including meetings and conference calls at my desk. There are days when I miss the in-field (in-water) aspect of my previous jobs. However there are opportunities for me to be engaged in training and survey work so it isn't that bad.

What do you do to relax? 

I am involved in recreational sporting activities. This includes distance running, triathlons, biking and field hockey. I also enjoy hiking, scuba diving, live music concerts and experimenting with fusing Caribbean cooking with other styles.

Who are your heroes/heroines? 

I'd have to say both sets of my grandparents as well as my parents. From them I have incorporated into my life themes such as: the importance of education, a love of nature, strong work ethic, being my "brother's" keeper as well as not taking oneself too seriously.

What advice would you give a student who expressed an interest in pursuing a career in your field? 

I would advise them to follow their passion! For this kind of work I would recommend having a good grounding in science and biology as well as some social sciences. This will help to improve their understanding of the importance of the ocean and coastal environment and the role they play in human existence. You may start out as a biologist, chemist, economist or philosophy student but you never know where you'll end up! I believe the future of conservation will require interdisciplinary approaches, including being able to relate to other disciplines, i.e., economists, biologists, atmospheric scientists, natural resource managers and even lawyers. But most importantly: follow your passion!

Are career opportunities in your field increasing or decreasing and why? 

I believe there is a potential for career opportunities in my field to expand. Environmental and natural resource economists are a unique group. Globally, more and more importance is being paid to understanding ecosystem services and the values natural systems provide to society. It is currently a niche area but I think in years to come this set of skills will be in more demand.

What will you be doing 10 years from today? 

One can never tell! I hope I will still be doing my small part in trying to improve conservation of our planet, especially the ocean and coasts.