Ocean Connectivity – EIUI Researcher Conducts Study in Falmouth, Massachusetts

What does the ocean mean to residents of coastal communities? What information informs their views about the ocean? How do these views relate to oceanographic and coastal data? How can citizens’ views about their connections to the ocean inform public policy? These questions underlie a research project being conducted by Simon Ryder-Burbidge, a graduate student in the Environmental Information: Use and Influence (EIUI) research team. This study is being completed with the assistance of Marine Policy Center of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Falmouth, Massachusetts. If you are a resident and/or homeowner in Falmouth, Massachusetts, please complete the survey described here.

Understanding Public Perception: Ocean Connectivity in Falmouth, Massachusetts

Residents and/or homeowners of Falmouth, Massachusetts: Welcome! What does the ocean mean to you? How do you interact with the sea? What connects you to marine environments? You are invited to give your views on these questions.

Please follow this link to begin the survey: https://surveys.dal.ca/opinio/s?s=39287

You will find the information you need to get started in the first screen in the online survey. In addition, you may also read the remainder of this post for more information about ocean connectivity, and the nature of this research project.

Do you have a story you’d like to share involving your connection to the sea? A great tale involving the ocean and you? Tell us about it for a chance to be featured live on WCAI’s Living Lab Radio show with Heather Goldstone, public radio for the Cape and Islands. Once you’ve completed the survey, send an email message to Simon at s.ryder-burbidge@dal.ca with your story and contact information. We are looking forward to hearing from you!

The Research Project: Towards an Ocean Connectivity Index

Simon Ryder-Burbidge, a graduate student in the Marine Affairs Program and a member of the EIUI research team at Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, is completing this project. He is working as a guest student with the Marine Policy Center at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in association with Dalhousie University’s Ocean Frontier Institute.

In some manner, everybody is connected to the ocean. For marine scientists and policymakers today, the challenge is to figure out how. Geographically, economically, and socio-culturally we are closer to, and more reliant upon the marine environment than ever before (Hoegh-Guldberg et al., 2015; Hönisch et al., 2010; Moffit & Cajas-Cano, 2014; Neumann et al., 2015). Despite these myriad connections, the health of the ocean continues to decline in many areas across the globe (Halpern et al., 2012), often as a by-product of human activity. Why is this happening? As a globalized society, why are we so challenged by the stewardship of the oceans upon which we depend? The answers are varied and complex. In North America, ocean literacy rates are low (Guest et al., 2015; Steel et al., 2005). A suite of compounding socio-economic factors limits the capacity for widespread participation in ocean and environmental citizenship more broadly (McKinley & Fletcher, 2012). Environmental management seems to be a low priority to the public, particularly for conservative voters (Thirteen Years of the Public’s Top Priorities, 2015). Seen mostly as abstract and irrelevant, evidence-based ocean policy has fallen victim to disinterest and political neglect (Collumb, 2013; Nelson, 2012).

To improve ocean health and build resilient coastal communities in North America, it is imperative that we begin to design ocean policy and meaningful ocean projects that align with public interests, capable of transcending political barriers. In order to do this, we must first understand how citizens in coastal communities value ocean spaces; what are the benefits that people derive from marine environments, and how does the ocean affect the lives of coastal residents at local and regional levels? By considering answers to these questions in relation to the demographic characteristics of individual citizens, we can begin to understand the ways in which individuals, and by extension their communities, perceive connections to the ocean. With this information at hand, scientists, community leaders, and policymakers can begin to design ocean science and communication plans, ocean economy projects, and marine governance strategies capable of fostering community engagement and social license.

This project endeavors to study how communities and their citizens value ocean spaces and perceive connections to the sea. What connects coastal residents to marine environments? How do individuals of varied background experience those connections, and why? The Ocean Connectivity Index (OCI) will provide a framework for researchers to develop an understanding of factors connecting individuals and communities to the marine world.

Here, connectivity refers to the measure of impact that ocean environments/ocean related-events can have on the socioeconomic well-being of respective communities (e.g., high-flood event connectivity for coastal communities vulnerable to sea level rise, compared to low-flood event connectivity for further-inland communities).

This study will be a test of a method. The OCI will use available datasets (for instance,  National Oceanographic and Atmospheric AdministrationUnited States Geographical Survey) to compare a science-based reflection of ocean connectivity with public perceptions in Falmouth. Data on public perception will be collected via an online and in-person survey, and analysis will compare what the science suggests about ocean connectivity in Falmouth with what the community says. Where do the two align? How do they differ? What are the demographic factors underlying divergent perceptions of ocean connectivity? Most importantly, how can we utilize this information to build locally-relevant, and publicly-supported ocean policy? With experience obtained in Falmouth as a guide, can this concept be scaled to encompass other coastal communities? How can we engage citizens in stewardship, better communicate science, and strengthen coastal communities to conserve marine biodiversity?



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