An international team of researchers conducted one of the first-ever investigations into how the public perceives threats to the world’s oceans. The study revealed that the majority of people feel that the marine environment is at serious risk from human activities and support action for ocean protection.
The researchers analyzed a set of public opinion surveys regarding marine issues that involved over 32,000 people in 21 countries. They found that 70 percent of respondents believe that the marine environment is directly threatened by human activities, and that 45 percent of participants feel that this threat is either high or very high.
The respondents identified pollution and fishing as the most urgent issues, followed by habitat alteration, climate change, and biodiversity loss.
Heike Lotze is a researcher at Dalhousie University in Canada and the lead author of the study. “People around the world are aware that the ocean is threatened and what are the major threats to the ocean,” said Lotze.
Over 70 percent of respondents also supported marine protected areas (MPAs), which are regions established to conserve natural resources found in the ocean. MPAs help to protect marine ecosystems by restricting human activities such as fishing, habitat alteration, or oil and gas extraction.
“There’s a lot of scientific thought put into ocean conservation around the world. But there’s much less information out there on what people actually think about the ocean and some of the protection measures,” said study co-author Jennifer O’Leary.
“This is important because anytime we are introducing protection measures, we’re asking people to change their behavior. And we know from behavioral research that focusing on what people already think is important can make changes easier for people to accept.”
While the public was found to perceive pollution as the biggest issue to marine environments, scientists typically rank habitat loss and fishing as the highest threats. The researchers also discovered that, while the majority of the public supports MPAs, there were many respondents who were unclear on exactly what an MPA is and how many are already established.
“What surprised me about the results was that most people overestimated the amount of ocean area being protected, and thus have a more optimistic view of ocean conservation and management than there actually is,” said Lotze. “However, most people still wanted to see much more ocean area protected than currently is, thus there is a clear wish for more ocean conservation.”
The study will be published in the February issue of the journal Ocean and Coastal Management.