SAMS news room

How the public sees the sea

Europe’s four regional seas (Baltic, Black, Mediterranean and NE Atlantic) have suffered severe environmental degradation due to human pressure. Although EU member states have adopted new policy and environmental legislation to tackle these problems, the marine environment is complex and its management is fraught with conflict. But the KnowSeas project – an EC-funded consortium – sees that recovery of our marine ecosystems is largely dependent on societal choice.

Given that that choice would be affected by how, why and for what people value the oceans, KnowSeas – formally known as Knowledge-based Sustainable Management for Europe’s Seas – conducted a survey of 7000 people across seven European countries, including UK. The survey resulted in a policy brief on “Public Perceptions of Europe’s Seas”, which uncovered for the first time a range of public opinions on what’s acceptable in working towards a sustainable marine environment.

Lead author Dr Tavis Potts of the Scottish Marine Institute (home of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS)) told how the survey revealed that individuals most valued the sea for its influence on weather and climate, food provision and scenery. Respondents also felt that environmental groups and scientists are the most competent to manage the ocean environment; that the oceans are a low priority relative to other immediate concerns, like the cost of living, health and education; and that marine protected areas and marine planning were ways of managing problems.

Yet the research highlighted “a schism between scientific and public perceptions of ocean problems,” said Dr Potts. “The misalignment between the perceived and actual threats to the marine environment may be seen as a failure on the part of the marine science community to adequately communicate their findings to the general public.” But the report went on to note that the public did perceive climate as a threat to the ocean, suggesting that although “a gulf exists between public and scientific understanding about many threats to the marine environment, successful communication is not impossible.”

The report concluded that human and natural systems are interdependent with social and economic drivers affecting ecosystem states. It recommended that successful management initiatives need to incorporate public opinion into the decision making process despite the difficulties in doing so. Wrapping up Dr Potts said: “Public engagement is a critical part of the ecosystem approach. While it varies across national contexts, it drives social and political acceptability of the changes and trade-offs necessary in moving toward sustainable marine systems.”

A full copy of the research and survey results can be accessed online from:

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