Communicating about ocean health: theoretical and practical considerations

As anthropogenic stressors threaten the health of marine ecosystems, there is a need to better understand how the public processes and responds to information about ocean health. Recent studies of public perceptions about ocean issues report high concern but limited knowledge, prompting calls for information campaigns to mobilize public support for ocean restoration policy. Drawing on the literature from communication, psychology and related social science disciplines, we consider a set of social-cognitive challenges that researchers and advocates are likely to encounter when communicating with the public about ocean health and emerging marine diseases—namely, the psychological distance at which ocean issues are construed, the unfamiliarity of aquatic systems to many members of the public and the potential for marine health issues to be interpreted through politicized schemas that encourage motivated reasoning over the dispassionate consideration of scientific evidence. We offer theory-based strategies to help public outreach efforts address these challenges and present data from a recent experiment exploring the role of message framing (emphasizing the public health or environmental consequences of marine disease) in shaping public support for environmental policy.

Schuldt J. P., McComas K. A. & Byrne S. E., 2016. Communicating about ocean health: theoretical and practical considerations. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 371(1689). Article.

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