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Citizens should help determine the future of our oceans

Despite increased efforts to curb human activities that harm the world’s oceans – such as overfishing, marine litter, pollution, microplastics, ocean acidity, and climate change – there is still an urgent need to fundamentally change the human-ocean relationship for both ecological and human benefits. 

Marine citizenship is a term currently used by scientists to refer to people actively involved in ocean protective measures. However, until recently, research has mainly focused on individuals changing their personal behaviors as an expression of responsibility towards the world’s oceans, including awareness raising, environmental attitudes research, or environmental education.

Now, a team of researchers led by the University of Exeter and the University of Bristol has argued that the government and political institutions should do more to make citizens feel empowered and participate in marine environmental decision-making processes as a critical part of marine citizenship. Such an approach would take into consideration the societal and political dimensions of the human-ocean relationship, rather than focus solely on individual behavioral change.

“Our research shows that marine citizenship is much more than individual pro-environmental behaviors, and government and political institutions have a responsibility to engage individuals and their views when it comes to marine environmental decisions,” said study lead author Pamela Buchan, a postdoctoral fellow in Marine Biology and Marine Social Science Research at Exeter.

“Access for citizens to participate in environmental decisions is commonly via charities and conservation groups, however, this is criticized because individuals are unable to give a direct contribution. Our research shows that citizens feel that individuals have the least influence over discussions about the future of our oceans.”

According to Buchan and her colleagues, marine citizenship should be redefined in a way that recognizes rights as well as responsibilities. At the same time, governments and political institutions should challenge the public and scientific community to further examine the potential of marine citizenship to create transformative change. 

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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