Investigating societal attitudes towards the marine environment of Ireland

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  • Investigating societal attitudes towards the marine environmentof Ireland

    Stephen Hynes n, Danny Norton, Rebecca CorlessSocio-Economic Marine Research Unit (SEMRU), J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland

    a r t i c l e i n f o

    Article history:Received 14 October 2013Received in revised form3 February 2014Accepted 3 February 2014Available online 26 February 2014

    Keywords:Public attitudesMarine environmentManagementOcean literacy

    a b s t r a c t

    This paper presents the results of a nationwide survey in Ireland that explored the values, concerns andpreferences of individuals towards the Irish marine environment. The results of the Irish survey are alsocompared to the results from similar surveys carried out in other maritime countries in the EU. Theresults of the Irish survey demonstrate a reasonable level of knowledge of the main threats facingIreland's marine environment and of the importance of non-market as well as market ecosystem servicesprovided by the seas around the Irish coast. The results also suggest that the Irish public are sceptical ofthe ability of government and private industry to manage the Irish marine economy but instead place alarge amount of trust in the competency of scientists. The perception of whether or not they considerwhere they live as being a coastal area would also suggest that the Irish public hold a much more narrowview of what constitutes a coastal area than that held by statistical agencies such as Eurostat.

    & 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

    1. Introduction

    Many people in Ireland rely upon the sea and its resources fortheir livelihood either directly or indirectly, while for others Irishseas and coasts are important for recreation. In 2010, the directeconomic value of the Irish ocean economy was 1.2 billion, and itprovided employment for approximately 16,300 full time equiva-lent individuals [1]. However, the views of the Irish public towardsthe seas and oceans around the Irish coast are relatively unknown.This is despite the fact that that Ireland has sovereign rights over900,000 km2 of seabed (which is an area 10 times the size of theland area of Ireland).

    While the positions of organised stakeholder groups are oftencaptured through responses to policy consultations such as thoseprovided for the recently launched Integrated Marine Plan forIreland, the opinion of the ordinary person in the street is difficultto include in the decision making process. However, it is thecollective choices made by communities through the marine andcoastal resources they use, the coastal areas they visit or reside inthat drive many pressures on the marine environment. The view-point of the Irish public on the seas and oceans around Ireland willalso play an important role in supporting policies such as theIntegrated Marine Plan for Ireland and the EU Marine StrategyFramework Directive and for policies aimed at the deployment ofmarine renewable devices, large scale aquaculture projects, and

    marine protected areas that have considerable social and eco-nomic consequences.

    The marine environment policy agenda in Europe is movingforward as a result of directives such as the European MarineStrategy Framework Directive, the Bathing Waters Directive andthrough regional seas strategies such as the Atlantic Strategy.Across other areas of marine activity, such as planning andmaritime development, policy is being driven by the IntegratedMaritime Strategy; and for fisheries through the reform of theCommon Fisheries Policy [2,3]. Indeed, the adoption of the MarineStrategy Framework Directive is an opportunity for a comprehen-sive policy for protecting, improving and sustainably usingEurope's seas. It calls for an ecosystem-based approach to manage-ment where humans are regarded as a key system component [4].

    The ever increasing and diverse use of the marine environmentis leading to human induced changes in marine life, habitats andlandscapes, making necessary the development of marine policythat considers all members of the user community and addressescurrent, multiple and interacting uses. In recent times, the govern-ance of the marine environment has also evolved from beingprimarily top down and state directed to being more participatory,inclusive and community based. Coupled with this fact is recentresearch that demonstrates how higher levels of citizen involve-ment in the management of the marine environment wouldgreatly benefit the marine environment [5,6].

    In what follows, Section 2 will briefly review previous studiesthat have examined public attitudes to the marine environment.Section 3 will present an overview of the survey instrumentand the sampling strategy followed in conducting the survey.

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    n Corresponding author. Tel.: 353 91 493105; fax 353 91 524130.E-mail address: (S. Hynes).

    Marine Policy 47 (2014) 5765

  • Section 4 will then present an analysis of the survey responseswhile Section 5 provides some concluding discussion.

    2. Previous studies that have examined public attitudes to themarine environment

    A number of previous research studies have examined thepublic awareness, attitudes and perceptions to the marine envir-onment using public surveys to attain their results [713]. A recentEuropean briefing report carried out by Potts et al. [2] explored thevalues, concerns and aspirations of the ordinary person regardingthe marine environment. The authors pointed out that it wasimportant to gain the views of the public as they play an importantrole in supporting reforms. A large sample across seven countrieswas taken. The findings revealed that the public had a goodunderstanding of the marine environment, especially in relationto ocean and atmospheric systems; that the importance placed onthe marine environment for scenery provides a justification forfurther incorporation of ecosystem services into the decisionmaking process; and in terms of environmental issues thatimmediate problems, such as the cost of living, health andpollution, were of greater concern to the public than more abstractelements of sustainability. The survey presented an optimisticpicture for support for marine planning and protection at thenational scale, with considerable goodwill in the public mind forthe development of marine planning initiatives.

    In 2011 the FP7 project CLAMER (Climate change and marineecosystem research) prepared a report [7] that discussedwhat the European public knows and cares about in relation tomarine climate change risks and impacts. The survey spanned10 European countries and was undertaken as a result of theperceived gap between what is known through research and whatpolicy makers and the public knows and understands about theimpacts of climate change in the oceans and seas around Europe.The EU Commission conducted a simular report in 2009 inpreparation for the United Nations Climate Change Conference inCopenhagen that was aiming to reach a follow-up agreement tothe Kyoto Protocol [9]. The results from both reports show that thepublic cares about climate change, ranking it second overall from alist of major global issues, and almost everybody polled believedclimate change is at least partly caused by humans. It also showedthat estimates provided by the public for rates of sea level rise andtemperature change matched well with scientific consensus,suggesting some fundamental messages are getting through tothe public domain. However for some issues, especially oceanacidification, public awareness was extremely low. Potts et al. [2]also highlighted a split between the public and the scientificcommunity over their respective perceptions of environmentalproblems in the sea. Elsewhere, research by Cobham ResourceConsultants [14] on the attitudes and aspirations of peopletowards the marine environment of Scotland with respect to itsuses, controls and conservation importance concluded that boththe public and marine stakeholders appear to have a restrictedunderstanding of the full range of uses and importance of marineresources. However they found that generally, stakeholders had abetter knowledge of the environmental issues such as pollution,waste disposal and impact of overfishing.

    Several broader socio-demographic themes also emerge fromthe literature. Staying longer in education, higher income and useof the internet has an impact on people's opinions of the marineenvironment [9]. A number of studies comparing responsesbetween genders found that women were more concerned aboutthe issues facing the marine environment than men [9,14,15].Additionally, the proximity to the sea and perceived level of risk to

    the marine environment has also been found to shape theperceptions of the public towards the marine environment [11].

    Research has also shown that by enhancing public awarenessand knowledge of oceans can lead to increased public support forocean restoration efforts [12]. The literature suggests that therehas already been some degree of effective communicationbetween policy makers and the public in relation to the marineenvironment, although there still remains a gap between publicand scientific understanding about many of the threats to marineecosystems. Steel et al. [12] conclude that the public is not wellinformed on the environmental terms and knowledge about oceanissues. The survey conducted by the authors found that coastalresidents say that they are slightly more knowledgeable thanthose residing in non-coastal areas, however both sets of respon-dents had trouble identifying important terms and answeringocean related quiz questions, implying that both coastal andnon-coastal communities need access to better information thatis delivered in an effective manner.

    More recently, Ahtiainena et al. [16] contributes to the expand-ing literature on social preferences for marine ecosystem servicesby assessing recreational usage and perceptions of the condition ofthe Baltic Sea from the perspective of the general public within thecoastal states surrounding the Baltic. They find that citizens ofcoastal countries are concerned over the state of the Baltic Sea,especially in Finland, Russia and Sweden and that the Poles, Danesand Finns have the most positive attitude towards contributingfinancially to improving the state of the Baltic Sea. Other researchthat has examined the attitudes, values, concerns and aspirationsof individuals regarding aspects of the marine environmentinclude work that has focused on climate change [17,18], environ-mental quality and beach use [19], cetacean conservation issues[20] and off shore wind farms [21,22].

    This paper adds to the above body of research by reporting onthe results of a nationwide survey in Ireland that explored thevalues, concerns and preferences of individuals regarding the Irishmarine environment. The results of the Irish survey are alsocompared to the results from similar surveys carried out in othermaritime countries in the EU. The results of this study also feedinto the emerging literature on Ocean literacy where an ocean-literate person can be defined as one that understands theinfluences of the ocean on society and society's influence in turnon the ocean, can communicate ocean related information, and isable to make informed decisions that affect the ocean. As Steelet al. [12] point out; with an understanding of the depth andbreadth of ocean understanding held by the general public, moreeffective public education and marine and ocean informationdissemination efforts may be targeted. With this in mind, thedepth and breadth of ocean and marine knowledge held by theIrish general public is investigated and reported on in the follow-ing sections.

    3. Questionnaire design and study sample

    A survey of 812 individuals living in Ireland was conducted inthe latter half of 2012. A quota controlled sampling procedure wasfollowed to ensure that the survey was nationally representativefor the population aged 18 years and above. Quota sampling setsdemographic quotas on the sample based on known populationdistribution figures. The quotas used here were based on knownpopulation distribution figures for age, sex, occupation and regionof residence taken from the 2011 National Census of Population.Interviews were spread across different days of the week andacross different times of day to ensure all population sub groupshad an equal chance of being interviewed.

    S. Hynes et al. / Marine Policy 47 (2014) 576558

  • Pilot testing of the survey instrument was conducted in thefield by RED C Research & Marketing. This allowed the collection ofadditional information and amendment of the survey instrumentwhich, along with expert judgment and observations from earlierfocus group discussions, was used to refine how the questionswere asked and the addition of some new questions. The pilotsurvey was undertaken during the month of August 2012 andconsisted of 56 interviews. The main survey was undertaken duringOctober and November 2012 and consisted of 812 interviews.

    To ascertain their personal opinions and attitudes towards themarine environment, respondents were asked a series of attitu-dinal questions using Likert Scales. More specifically, respondentswere first presented with a general statement on the marineenvironment in Irish seas and the uses to which this environmentwas being put and were then asked how much of this informationthey were already aware of. This opening preamble did not justseek to set the context for the survey, but it was hoped that itmight also provide a useful indication of the knowledge of therespondents in relation to the state of the seas around the coast ofIreland.1 Interestingly, 55% of the sample indicated that they knewnothing or very little of the information provided. Only 1.2%knew everything.

    Following this question, information was collected on theirattitudes towards different aspects of the marine environment.This was obtained by reading out a number of statements andasking the respondents to indicate the extent to which they agreedor disagreed with them. These statements were developed withthe assistance of marine specialists in the Ryan Institute, NationalUniversity of Ireland Galway and through dialogue in a number offocus groups prior to survey design. A number of the questionsasked were also adopted from a similar attitudinal survey by Pottset al. [2] to allow comparisons from the Irish sample to theresponses by representative population samples in UK, Spain,Portugal, Poland, Italy, Germany and France.2 While some ques-tions related to the actions of marine stakeholders, others wereaimed at determining individuals' support for policies aimed atmarine planning and protection. The survey was undertakenthroughout the Republic of Ireland and was carried out on a faceto face basis.

    A comparison of a number of characteristics between thesurvey and the 2011 Census of Population is shown in Table 1.Based on these characteristics the survey respondents are con-sidered to be representative of the general public in the Republicof Ireland. In the next section the responses to the main attitudinalquestions asked are analysed and discussed.

    4. Results

    Respondents were first asked the extent to which they thoughtthe overall environmental state of both coastal and the deepoceans around Ireland was poor or good using a five point Likertscale. As shown in Fig. 1, approximately 15% of the sample believed

    that the general environmental state of the Irish coastal and oceanwaters was very poor or poor, 17% believed it was neither poor norgood and the remaining 68% believed that it was good or verygood. This is interesting in the context of the variety of marinerelated water management schemes put in place over the last 20years such as the Water Framework Directive, the Bathing WatersDirective and more recently, the Marine Strategy FrameworkDirective. These measures coupled with Ireland's geographicallocation on the edge of the Atlantic, which supplies Ireland withit fresh maritime climate, may explain the Irish general popula-tion's positive perception of the state of the country's marineenvironment.

    Respondents were next asked how concerned, if at all, theywere about different issues facing society in Ireland today. Asshown in Fig. 2, health issues and the cost of living were rated asbeing the most important issues facing Irish society, closelyfollowed by the economy and education. Only terrorism andspecies loss ranked lower than ocean health in terms of being animportant or very important issue of concern. Interestingly, thePotts et al. [2] study showed a very similar pattern of concerns (seeAppendix A) for other European countries with ocean health beingfurther down the concerns list. It is also worth noting howeverthat while the pattern is similar, the Irish sample appear to have amuch higher tendency to rate each issue as being important orvery important.

    The next question in the survey asked respondents to rank on ascale of 15 how important they felt various functions of Irish seas

    Table 1Characteristics of this survey versus Census 2011.

    This survey(n812)

    Census 2011 Republic ofIreland

    Average Age (Years) 44.6 44.8Gender (% Male) 49.8 49Nationality (% Irish) 90 86Education(% To primary level)

    10 16

    Education(% To secondary level)

    56 53

    Education (% To third level) 34 31Marital Status (% Single) 29 27Marital Status (% Married) 53 51Marital Status (% Other) 18 12Incomea ( per year) 33,300 36,138

    Note that that values refer to population aged 18 .a Estimated income was only estimated for those working who reported their

    personal income (n185) for the sample in order to make similar comparison toavailable national data which was based on average earnings for third quarter, 2012(CSO, 2012).


    14% 16%














    Very poor Fairly poor Neither good nor poor

    Fairly good Very good

    Quality coastal waters and beaches % Quality Open Oceans %

    Fig. 1. The rating of the environmental condition of coastal waters and beaches inIreland and the rating of the environmental condition of the oceans around Irelandby the Irish general public.

    1 The exact wording of the preamble was The seas around Ireland provideIrish people with many goods such as fish and energy (e.g. gas and off-shore wind)and are also valued by people for recreational purposes. Some people might evenjust value having clean and healthy seas. However, due to increased exploitation ofthe marine environment and increased risk of pollution combined with theincreased influence of land based activities on the sea, the marine environment(e.g. fish, whales, seaweeds, etc) is at risk of being degraded. Therefore there is atrade off between using the seas versus maintaining or restoring the marineenvironment to healthy and clean status.

    2 It should be noted however that the Potts et al. [2] study used an on-linesampling procedure and excluded persons over the age of 65 where as the surveyreported in this paper used a face to face survey and included persons over the ageof 65. Potts et al. did reweight their samples however to be nationally representa-tive of the population in each of the countries analysed.

    S. Hynes et al. / Marine Policy 47 (2014) 5765 59

  • and oceans were to them personally (1 being least important and5 being most important). The results of this question are presentedin Fig. 3. The seas as a source of foodwere given a rank of 4 or 5 (i.e.seen as important or very important) by approximately 91% of allrespondents. This was closely followed by for the regulation ofweather and climate and recreation and tourism which weregiven a rank of 4 or 5 by 87% and 86% of respondents respectively.The importance of Irish seas for culture and identity and forcreativity had the lowest 4 or 5 rankings albeit at a still high 73%and 71% respectively. The latter finding is somewhat surprisinggiven that Ireland is an island nation on the fringes of Europe buthaving said that the fact that Ireland has tended to turn her backon her marine resources and heritage has been commented onpreviously [23,24].

    While Irish residents emphasise the practical uses of the seas asbeing important (food source, trade, employment and education)it is also interesting to note that the non-market ecosystemservices (climate, recreation, and scenery) are rated as importantas marine functions and activities. It is often debated whether thegeneral public have enough knowledge in relation to the non-provisioning ecosystem services provided by the marine environ-ment to be in a position to state their value to them personally[25,26] but the attitudes expressed by the Irish general publicwould suggest that they are aware of their importance and thatthe inclusion of non-market and non-use ecosystem services indecision making is something that should be happening asstandard rather than on an ad-hoc basis. Once again individualsfrom across the UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Germany andFrance would appear to have a similar pattern of preferences tothe Irish as well as the same appreciation for the non-market aswell as the marketed ecosystem services from the marine

    environment, although once again the Irish are more generouswith their ratings in each case (see Fig. A2 in Appendix A).

    The preferences of respondents differed markedly betweensocio-demographic groupings. For example, those who have rela-tively lower annual incomes rate the importance of the ocean as asource of food as less important than those who have higherincome levels. It could be that for those with relatively lowerincomes seafood is relatively expensive to other alternatives and istherefore not as relevant a concern as it might be for higherincome households where purchases on seafood generally accountfor a higher percentage of the overall household food budget. Also,in general, households with an income of less than 40,000 have ahigher tendency to give a ranking of 1 or 2 (not at all important ora little important) across all the marine related values.

    Respondents were then asked to indicate how much of a threatdifferent issues posed for Ireland's marine environment (seeFig. 4). The factors that were deemed to be the most of a threatwere industry pollution (87%) followed by litter (86%). Interest-ingly an additional 11% of those on lower annual incomes (less that40,000) consider that litter poses a significant threat (i.e. givelitter a ranking of 5) than those who earn more. Oil and gasextraction and ocean acidification was a close third with 81% and80% of the sample rating them as posing a threat or severe threatto Ireland's marine environment. The perceived threat of non-native (invasive) species by the Irish general public is relativelyhigh at 60%. While invasive species have been shown to havemajor impacts on marine ecosystem services [27], invasive speciesin Irish marine waters has not been a major problem to date. Theperceived threat of oil and gas is surprisingly high considering theextensive nature of such activity in Irish waters but may reflectexposure to the long running media coverage of the conflictbetween a local community groups and the Shell oil companyover construction of a natural gas pipeline and refinery at a site inCo. Mayo.

    Less than 50% of all citizens considered farming or aquacultureas posing a threat or severe threat to Ireland's marine environmentand only approximately 52% of respondents felt that fishing posedany significant threat. This is an interesting finding given that theIrish Environmental Protection Agency [28] identified the dis-charge of nutrients and other contaminants (much of which islikely to come from farming), marine litter, commercial fishing,aquaculture and the effects of climate change as key pressures onIreland's marine waters. Indeed, eutrophication driven by agricul-ture has been shown to pose a major threat on the marineenvironment, causing hypoxia, anoxia and mass benthic die-off[29]. It would appear that except for marine litter, what thescientific community/experts see as the most significant threatson Ireland's marine environment are not fully in line with thatperceived by the general public. The low perceived threat of

    97% 98% 99% 96%

    69% 71%

    90% 90% 93%81% 83%









    Fig. 2. Prioritisation of issues of concern. Scores shown as percentage of responsesrated as important or very important. (A score of 45 on a 5 point scale where1 means it is not at all important and 5 means it is very important.)


    87% 91% 83% 81%73%





    Fig. 3. The value of the oceans to individuals across Ireland. Scores shown aspercentage of responses rated as important or very important. (A score of 45 on a5 point scale where 1 means it is not at all important and 5 means it is veryimportant.)

    0%10%20%30%40%50%60%70%80%90% 79%

    60%49% 47% 51%

    87% 86% 81% 80%


    Fig. 4. Rankings of perceived threats to the marine environment by the Irish Public.Scores shown as percentage of responses rated as threat or severe threat (score of45). (A score of 45 on a 5 point scale where 1 means it poses no threat and5 means it poses a significant threat.)

    S. Hynes et al. / Marine Policy 47 (2014) 576560

  • fisheries may explain the surprise expressed by Fahy [24] that thepublic is not more effective in obtaining a change in what theauthor sees as poor fisheries management policy in Ireland. Fahyalso comments on the fact that commercial fishing has a warmspot in the people's hearts and the way it operates is profoundlymisunderstood.

    Also, in an international survey of scientists in relation to theirperceptions of threats to the ocean, Halpern et al. [30] found thatclimate change and commercial fishing are the two chief causes ofconcern. It is also surprising that fishing, farming and aquaculturedo not rank higher in the Irish study given the significant mediacoverage often given to these sectors impact on the marineenvironment relative to many of the other categories that areperceived to be of a higher threat. Once again however the generalpattern of perceptions of threats would appear to be very similarto those held by citizens in the UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy,Germany and France where the factors that were deemed to be themost of a threat were the same as in Ireland; industry pollutionand marine litter (see Fig. A4). These may be perceived to be themost significant threats by the public as perhaps they see litter onthe beaches and the spread of industry on the coasts, where asthey may not see as readily commercial fishing activity that takesplace off shore or the impacts of nutrient run-off from farming.

    The next question in the survey asked respondents howcompetent they felt a number of different groups were when itcame to managing and protecting Ireland's ocean environment. Ascan be seen from Fig. 5 only 25% and 27% of respondents felt thatlocal government or national government, respectively, werecompetent or highly competent (score of 4 or 5) when it cameto the management of the marine environment. Indeed evenprivate industry was seen as being more competent than theseinstitutions when it comes to marine management. It should benoted that these questions were asked only shortly after the Irishgovernment put in place the first Integrated Marine Plan forIreland and as such the attitudes of the general public may havealtered in regard to this institution's competency since then. Itwould appear that the many marine and coastal related policiesand Directives the EU has drafted in recent years have made someimpact in terms of the perceived competency of this institutionwith 40% of responds believing that this level of government iscompetent or highly competent when it comes to the manage-ment of the marine environment.

    The one group that the public would appear to have some faithin when it comes to the management of the marine environmentare the scientists where 69% of respondents believe that this groupare competent or highly competent when it comes to the manage-ment of the marine environment. This high level of faith in theability of a group to manage the marine environment (69%) is also

    shown for the Irish Marine Institute which is the national agencyresponsible for marine research, technology development andinnovation.3 Once again a very similar pattern of rankings isshown for the different groups across the countries in the Pottset al. [2] study as well (see Fig. A5 in the Appendix). As Potts et al.point out, the apparent mistrust of government organisations andindustry with the management of the marine environment mayreflect the public's discontent at environmental problems ingeneral (even when not ocean related) and the failure of govern-ment policy to tackle such problems.

    The next two questions in the survey were asked in order togauge the support from the general public for marine planningand protection. As Pomeroy and Douvere [31] point out manage-ment of the marine environment is a matter of societal choice andinvolves decision making in terms of allocating parts of three-dimensional marine spaces to specific uses to achieve statedecological, economic and social objectives. People are central tothis decision-making process and are the agents for the use changeof the marine resources. As such, the attitudes of the generalpublic to marine management and planning are vital to thesuccess of any form of marine spatial planning.

    The respondents were first told that it had been suggested thatgovernments should make plans that specify the different activ-ities that can happen and where they can happen in the sea.Respondents were then asked to what extent they agreed ordisagreed with this idea on a scale of 15 where 1 means stronglydisagree and 5 is strongly agree. As can be seen from Fig. 6 therewas relatively low agreement to this statement from the Irishgeneral population relative to that in the countries from the Pottset al. [2] study. This may be related to the perceived competency ofthe government by the general public in relation to the manage-ment of the marine environment.

    Similarly, the following question then informed the respon-dents that some people have suggested that governments shoulddesignate parts of the ocean as protected areas, in the same waythat they do with national parks on land, while others have saidthis is not a good idea. The respondents were then asked to whatextent they agreed or disagreed with this suggestion. Once again,and as can be seen from Fig. 7, there was relatively low agreementto this statement from the Irish general population relative to thatin the countries from the Potts et al. [2] study. This is all the moreinteresting result given that the Irish sample consistently gavehigher rankings across all the other questions prior to these twoquestions compared to the UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy,Germany and France samples.

    While marine protected areas (MPAs) do exist in Irish watersthey have a much narrower definition than what is used inter-nationally. In Ireland MPAs are designated specifically for theprotection of habitats and species under the Birds and HabitatsDirectives. The existence of the Irish Conservation Box off thesouth west coast of Ireland also represents a kind of MPA in Irishwaters, but its main purpose is for the management of commercialfish stocks. Also seven marine sites have been identified as beingof significant ecological importance and were proposed by theIrish government as Special Marine Areas of Conservation in 2012.As Johnson et al. [32] point out; the designation of marine SACs orMPAs in Irish waters presents opportunities for marine conserva-tion and has the potential to bring wider benefits to society.However, evidence from the response to the last question suggests



    40% 42%






    Fig. 5. Perceived competence of different groups to manage the marine environ-ment. Scores shown as percentage of responses rating competent or highlycompetent (rating of 45). (A score of 45 on a 5 point scale where 1 means it isnot at all competent and 5 means highly competent.)

    3 While there are many other agencies in Ireland with a marine related remitsuch as the Environmental Protection Agency, Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Sea FisheriesProtection Authority, etc., only the Marine Institute was included in the question asthis is the agency with the widest remit when it comes to the management of theIrish marine environment and would be the most recognisable marine relatedagency to the general public.

    S. Hynes et al. / Marine Policy 47 (2014) 5765 61

  • that Irish society may not be aware of these benefits as there doesnot appear to be a high level of support for marine spatial planningor designated protected areas in general.

    Finally, respondents in the survey were also asked if theyconsidered where they lived as being in a coastal area. They werealso asked how far they approximately lived from the coast. Asdiscussed by Hynes and Farrelly [33] the range of definitionsavailable for coastal zone boundaries raises difficulties betweenthose who prefer to use an ecological-natural system basedboundary to those who prefer a legal/administrative/economicboundary consistent with government jurisdictions. Often thesedefinitions do not coincide with communities own perceptions ofliving in a coastal area. For example, Eurostat defines EU coastalregions as standard statistical regions (NUTS level 3), which haveat least half of their population within 50 km of the coast [34]. InIreland's case NUTS level 3 regions are represented by almost theentire country except for four counties in the centre. The results ofthis survey would indicate that this is a much broader definitionthan peoples own perceptions of whether the area they live in iscoastal or not.

    In total, 41% of the sample considered where they live as beingcoastal. More interestingly, the average self reported distance tothe coast of those who considered themselves as living in a coastalregion was reported at 9.4 km while the actual distance (based onan examination of the GIS location of the respondent) wasmeasured as 10.1 km. A simple binary logit model was also usedto estimate the probability that someone considers where theylive is in a coastal zone as a function of their reported distance tothe coast. The results are graphed in Fig. 8 and indicate that aperson has at least a 0.5 probability of considering themselvesliving in the coastal zone if they are within a perceived 15 km

    (16.25 km if assessed using actual road distance) of the coast. Thisis significantly below the inland boundary distance for a coastalregion in Ireland as defined by Eurostat.

    5. Discussion and conclusions

    The general public's demands on the marine environment arecontinuously changing. Society increasingly utilises the marineenvironment for a variety of purposes and its protection is nowseen as much more important by modern consumers. Similar toterrestrial based ecosystems there are numerous push and pullfactors that can lead to significant changes in marine ecosystemprocesses and outputs. The push factors are connected with trendsin marine related commercial activities such as shipping or fishing,which can result in intensification of the use of the marine spaceas well as new activities such as off-shore energy production andmarine tourism. The pull factors relate to what the consumerrather than the direct marine stakeholders want from the marineenvironment. With increased urbanization in the coastal zone andimproved infrastructure allowing even quicker access to the coast-line, there is increasing demands (sometimes conflicting) forrecreational activities and nature conservation from the modernconsumer. Given these multiple dynamics the sustainability of anyparticular marine activity may only be guaranteed through thecommitment of all the parties involved: fishermen, shippingoperators, marine policymakers, recreationalists, spatial planners,and perhaps most importantly society in general (who are also thetaxpayers funding the marine policy initiatives).

    While food security was a dominant concern for consumers atthe time of the formation of the European Union, concernssurrounding the environmental impacts of human activity on theenvironment are now as important to citizens of the EU. Citizensare nowmore aware that certain marine related activities can havenegative impacts on, among other things, biological diversity,water quality and seascape and habitats [16,35,36]. Marine envir-onmental management and legislation has also moved away frommanagement efforts organized around particular uses such asfishing or tourism, resulting in separate governance regimes foreach sector, towards an ecosystem based management approachwhich recognizes that plant, animal and human communities andactivities are interdependent and interact with their physicalenvironment to form distinct ecological units called ecosystems.This approach to management also allows policy makers toinclude societal values for marine ecosystem services into thedecision making processes where the trade-off between economic


    Ireland Portugal Italy Spain Germany France UK Poland


    89% 87%77% 75% 71% 70% 67%

    Fig. 6. Rankings of national responses to marine spatial planning. Shown aspercentage of responses rated as agree or strongly agree by the Irish generalpublic compared to the rated response from individuals across UK, Spain, Portugal,Poland, Italy, Germany and France. (Score of 4 or 5, from a scale of 15 where1 means strongly disagree and 5 is strongly agree.)


    86% 83% 81% 80% 77%68% 65%



    Ireland Portugal Italy Spain Germany France UK Poland

    Fig. 7. Designation of marine protected areas. Percentage of responses rated asagree or strongly agree by the Irish general public compared to the rated responsefrom individuals across UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Germany and France.(Score of 4 or 5, from a scale of 15 where 1 means strongly disagree and 5 isstrongly agree.)






    0 50 100 150 200 250

    Distance from residence to Coast

    Fig. 8. The probability of considering where you live a coastal area as a function ofthe distance of residency (km) from the coast (probability based on a simple logitmodel of the response yes (1) or no (0) as a function of distance).

    S. Hynes et al. / Marine Policy 47 (2014) 576562

  • use and marine protection can be fully assessed. The importance ofthis integrated approach to marine management will be seenthrough a greater role for marine spatial planning in policyformation. Judging by the results of this survey however, thepublic will need further evidence of why this form of spatialplanning is both necessary and important for the sustainable useof our ocean resources.

    Many of the most relevant directives and policies aimed at thedevelopment and protection of EU marine resources highlightthe importance of public participation in marine related decisionmaking. A key aim of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive forexample is to raise public awareness of issues relating to themarine environment. It also states that to ensure the activeinvolvement of the general public in the establishment, imple-mentation and updating of marine strategies, provision should bemade for proper public information on the different elements ofmarine strategies. The EU Blue Growth Strategy and the EUAtlantic Strategy also highlight the importance of fostering anenhanced public awareness of the marine environment. In theIrish case, the Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland also highlights aneed to move towards more inclusive stakeholder and publicparticipation in the management of Ireland's ocean wealth, creat-ing further opportunities for our citizens to make meaningfulcontributions to decision-making.

    Elsewhere, the Aarhus Convention requires public participationin environmental decision-making (transposed into EU law byDirective 2003/35/EC). The Directive envisages specific publiccomment on plans and programmes whereby the public isinformed of a public consultation and asked to submit commentsor opinions. This method of public participation may be influencedby a small cohort of passionate groups or individuals. Approachingthe general public through a survey, as was done in this study,could result in a better understanding of the viewpoint of thegeneral public than what might be achieved through an open callfor comments.

    The results of both the study presented here and by Potts et al.[2] would suggest similar attitudes toward the marine environmentacross Ireland, the UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Germany andFrance, although the Irish respondents tended to give a higherranking on many of the questions asked. This tendency for theIrish public to express high levels of concern related to environ-mental issues has also been noticed in other surveys [38].The results of the Irish survey demonstrate a reasonable level ofknowledge of the main threats facing Ireland's marine environ-ment and of the importance of the non-market as well as marketecosystem services that the seas around the Irish coast provide.The results also suggest that the Irish public are sceptical of theability of government and private industry to manage the Irish

    marine economy but instead place a large amount of trust in thecompetency of scientists. This would imply that a greater, moretransparent role for scientists in marine policy formation and thedecision making process would result in marine policy measuresreceiving greater support from the public than measures that areperceived to be mainly driven through government departments.Indeed this increased role for scientists (including social scien-tists!) is already becoming more evident in policies such as the EUMarine Strategy Framework Directive with its integrated assess-ment approaches which incorporates the viewpoints of manystakeholders and the current reforms of the Common FisheriesPolicy which is attempting to boost participatory decision makingand co-management [37].

    The Irish public's response to marine special planning anddesignation of MPA's by the government was less enthusiasticthan their European counterparts. This may be related to theperceived competency of the government by the Irish public inrelation to the management of the marine environment. With theestablishment of MPA's and the use of marine spatial planninglikely to increase in the coming years the relevant Irish authoritieswill need to find a way to communicate the importance of suchmarine planning and protection approaches to the Irish public andto educate them on the flow of benefits that could flow from anyfurther MPA designations in Irish waters; benefits from both aneconomic and social as well as a conservation perspective.

    The differences between the public and scientific perception ofthe main threats to the marine environment also suggests thatbetter communication between the relevant authorities and thepublic on marine issues and policies is needed. It also suggests thatthere is a need for further education of Irish society in regards tothis and other marine environmental issues. An example of Oceanliteracy in practice is the Sea for Society (SfS) project [39]. This EUfunded project has a number of aims but foremost among them islinking ecosystem services provided by marine environment to thedaily lives of EU citizens and demonstrating how their behaviourcan indirectly affect the marine environment. The results hereshow that there is a need for such initiatives if citizens are todevelop a better understanding of the importance of the seasaround them and if they are to engage with policymakers asresponsible actors of change in marine environmental challenges.

    Finally, the perception of whether or not they consider where theylive as being a coastal area would also suggest that the Irish publichold a muchmore narrow view of what constitutes a coastal area thanthat held by statistical agencies such as Eurostat. Elsewhere, Hynesand Farrelly [33] have argued that the Eurostat definition is too broad.The authors also noted that the availability of human-activity data onthe coastal regions of Europe is the basis for strategic decision-makingon coastal and maritime policy. If the definition of these coastal



    Ireland UK, Spain, Portugal,Poland, Italy, Germany, France

    Fig. A1. Prioritisation of issues of concern by Irish general public compared to the average response from individuals across UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Germany andFrance. (A score of 45 on a 5 point scale where 1 means it is not at all important and 5 means it is very important.)

    S. Hynes et al. / Marine Policy 47 (2014) 5765 63

  • regions is out of line with the perceptions of society, as the resultsabove would suggest they are, then it will be much more difficult forpolicy makers to achieve consensus on decisions that impact the coast.Also, the decisions reached may not be efficient if the analysedimpacts of a proposed coastal development are based on the incorrectdefinition of the population and geographical area affected.

    Given the increased impetus on marine spatial planning forcommercial and environmental sustainability regulation in areas suchas fisheries, marine energy, and aquaculture; national governmentsand marine policy makers are in need of a range of social andeconomic indicators for the sector, including information on theopinions and preferences of the persons and communities using



    Ireland: Important or very Important

    UK, Spain, Portugal,Poland, Italy, Germany, France: Important or very Important

    Fig. A2. The value of the oceans to individuals across Ireland compared to the average response from individuals across UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Italy, Germany andFrance. Scores shown as percentage of responses rated as important or very important (a score of 45). (A score of 45 on a 5 point scale where 1 means it is not at allimportant and 5 means it is very important.)


    Ireland UK, Spain, Portugal,Poland, Italy, Germany, France

    Fig. A3. Rankings of perceived threats to the environment by the Irish general public compared to the average response from individuals across UK, Spain, Portugal, Poland,Italy, Germany and France. (A score of 45 on a 5 point scale where 1 means it poses no threat and 5 means it poses a significant threat.)









    Ireland UK, Spain, Portugal,Poland, Italy, Germany, France

    Fig. A4. Perceived competence of different groups to manage the environment by Irish general public compared to the average response from individuals across UK, Spain,Portugal, Poland, Italy, Germany and France. Scores shown as percentage of responses rating competent or highly competent (rating of 45). (A score of 45 on a 5 pointscale where 1 means it is not at all competent and 5 means highly competent.)

    S. Hynes et al. / Marine Policy 47 (2014) 576564

  • Ireland's coastal and marine resources. Ultimately, management ofthe marine environment is a matter of societal choice and knowingwhat the values, concerns and preferences of individuals regardingthe marine environment are is the first step in ensuring that policydecisions are broadly in line with society's wishes.


    This work is an output of the Socio-Economic Marine ResearchUnit (SEMRU) and was funded through the Beaufort MarineResearch Award, which is carried out under the Sea ChangeStrategy and the Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation(20062013), with the support of the Marine Institute, fundedunder the Marine Research Sub-Programme of the NationalDevelopment Plan 20072013.

    Appendix A

    See Figs. A1A4.


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    Investigating societal attitudes towards the marine environment of IrelandIntroductionPrevious studies that have examined public attitudes to the marine environmentQuestionnaire design and study sampleResultsDiscussion and conclusionsAcknowledgementsAppendix AReferences


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