Public need to understand the importance of Marine Protected Areas – but who will tell them?

In science it can be really difficult to get approval and funding for certain projects – especially where public opinion isn’t behind the cause. The public can be a very valuable resource when it comes to raising awareness about a cause and promoting action. For example, the use of bumper stickers (as we discussed last week) to show that you are behind a cause such as Save Ningaloo Reef or Stop the Cane Toad.

Bumper stickers for the ‘Save Ningaloo Reef’ campaign can still be seen on cars long after the campaign’s success.

These causes are relatively simple to understand. For example, cane toads are an introduced species that are harming our native wildlife across many parts of Australia. Members of the public understand this concept and so are happy to get behind the cause and push for action if its something they believe in. But what happens to a worthy cause that the public don’t have a good understanding of?

Marine protected areas (MPA) seem like a simple enough idea: Certain regions of the ocean are set aside as ‘no fishing’ or ‘limited fishing’ areas. Oceanic flora and fauna are then expected to  recover from the reduced fishing and tourist pressures. However, the allocation of these MPA’s are a highly debated topic. There are lots of tourism and fishing jobs at risk as well as this being a relatively new area of research, where the costs and benefits of MPA allocation are often unknown. Generally the public know very little about the marine environment; in particular marine ecology and policy processes (Compas et al 2007).

Recreational fishers have concerns over their rights in MPA allocation.

Compas, et al. (2007) looked at how MPA’s were conveyed in South Australian media from 1996 – 2007. At this time 19 MPA’s were proposed within South Australian waters. They identified that the public gets most of their information about policies and environmental protection from written media i.e. newspapers. Therefore a range of newspaper articles were reviewed for their content during this period.

Their studies concluded that well-informed and knowledgeable members of the public are more likely to support environmental causes. Of the newspaper articles that were reviewed, most of the reporting concentrated on opposing stakeholders and opinions instead of information on the significance of marine ecology or MPA establishment. ‘These information gaps have left the public poorly informed, and therefore, there is unlikely to be significant pressure to overcome the continued delays in the establishment process’ (Compas et al 2007, 1).

To date, these marine parks have still not all been implemented in South Australia. What tactics or approaches do you think could be used to try and inform the public about the importance of protecting their marine resource? How much or little do you know yourself about MPAs and where would you go to source your information?


Compas, E, Clarke, B, Cutler, C, and Daish, K (2007) Murky Waters: Media reporting of marine protected areas in South Australia. Marine Policy. vol. 31, no. 6, pp. 691 – 697.


3 comments so far

  1. shortfletch on

    I don’t know that much about MPA (especially in Australia). Admittedly, I also don’t pay much attention to australian media.

    The Canadian government used to produce “part of our heritage’ commercials to teach us about Canadian history. I also learned a lot about smoking from commercials. As well I really like PSA by The concerned children’s advertisers. I wonder if there would be groups that could make PSA commercials to teach the importance of MPAs.

    • ashfonty on

      I love the idea, however I think it would be very difficult to get funding for! The reality is that the vast majority of the population would not interact with the areas of the ocean that are being protected in these MPAs.

      How can we get people to appreciate the value of something that they don’t think they have an impact on, or that they won’t get to experience themsleves?

      Personally I think the internet is the first place that people will be looking for their information. I remember learning in Science Media that first you need to develop awareness of an issue, then create understanding, and then you can try cause an action.

      I don’t think we are even in the awareness stage yet! And I think your comments would agree with that.

  2. buid01 on

    I agree with you that public is a strong influence to push the funding for a particular project in science. However, it is also important for the scientists behind the project to inform the public the reason in encouraging the funding. A way to do it is by raising awareness about the key message of the project. And I think it is really up to people who are involved in the science project to promote the actions through effective delivery methods to the public. So say if they can effectively deliver the msg and the public can understand the msg and support the project, then actions will come into place. As a result, it is more likely that the project will get funded.

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