The results of this study have applications for ocean science and conservation outreach. They suggest that sociodemographic characteristics in combination with ocean use variables are significant predictors of belief in the urgency of current environmental issues, interest in learning more about these issues, and willingness to participate in ocean conservation activities. These data can be used for more informed program development, particularly for Hawaii audiences. In Hawaii, many marine science community initiatives exist and the information presented in the OTPAS can help to augment programs to bring in new audiences by targeting specific kinds of participants. The COSEE Island Earth program is using this information to better understand community participation in marine science programming and to share with other organizations for improved community outreach. The outcomes of this survey will better inform community partners about specific groups such as young canoe paddlers that have interest in conservation, so that they can target their messages, improving efficiency and maximize impact.
Sociodemographic predictors of attitude towards ocean conservation
Consistent with past research (Howard and Parsons 2006), gender was a significant predictor of environmental attitudes. In this study, women reported a greater degree of importance for the environmental issues identified in the survey and were more interested in participating in ocean conservation activities, despite the fact that men were more likely to be involved in ocean use. More men may be encouraged to become involved in environmental outreach if participation opportunities were better aligned with men’s ocean use such as fishing activities. Several examples of this exist with recreational fishing contests for sustainable fish, or fishermen working with scientists to provide information and input on community-based fisheries management plans (Hartley and Robertson 2009). For women participants who are already more likely to value environmental issues, marine conservation programs should use specific promotions towards females, cueing existing interest to generate participation in specific conservation activities such as beach cleanups and community water quality monitoring programs. Targeting gender-specific recreational programs, such as canoe paddling or surfing teams and clubs, should also help reinforce conservation messaging for readily receptive audiences.
After accounting for other variables, age was another significant predictor in this study. As participants aged, they indicated greater concern for environmental issues related to ocean conservation. Again, this is similar to previous studies that imply older groups have more concern for the environment (Biodiversity Project 2002; Howard and Parsons 2006), suggesting a need for directed outreach relevant to specific age groups of ocean users. Older participants could be involved in ocean conservation programs that appeal to senior audiences, such as lectures and continuing education courses. This can be applied to existing Hawaii-based programs such as the Ocean Awareness Training (OAT),Footnote 1 a marine conservation course for the community that encourages volunteerism. Generating new interest could be achieved by targeting volunteer organizations and clubs outside of marine conservation such as local chapters of LionsFootnote 2 or RotaryFootnote 3 clubs.
Younger participants demonstrated less interest in ocean conservation activities, justifying a more aggressive outreach plan targeting younger age groups supported by family and community. Several studies have shown that positive attitudes and involvement towards the environment is heavily influenced by childhood action experiences, coupled by encouragement from parents, friends, and communities (Arnold et al. 2009; Jensen 2002). A 2003 study performed by Volk and Cheak conducted on Molokai, Hawaii, showed that community involvement and values of Hawaiian culture helped to influence youth participation. One way to engage these younger groups may be to pair them with older ocean recreation participants, who have statistically shown to be more interested in marine conservation. Another can be through ocean recreation, specifically aiming messages at activities popular among youth such as surfing and standup paddling. Examples of this currently exist with ocean conservation organizations like SurfriderFootnote 4 and Surf Aid.Footnote 5
Survey participants who identified as Hawaiian and/or Pacific Islander showed the greatest belief in preserving traditional Hawaiian practices for ocean conservation and were more likely to use the ocean for cultural activities such as limu collecting. Given the strong cultural ties present in the survey, and the Hawaiian/Pacific Islander connection to place, not only are traditional practices important to ocean conservation but to the place-specific connection of survey participants. A growing awareness on the importance of place-based conservation and environmental education has occurred over the past decade, acknowledging the local context and specific socio-ecological dynamics that contribute to how individuals determine the value of conservation efforts (Williams et al. 2013). A place-based approach is important for ocean conservation outreach in Hawaii, whose unique ecology, diverse cultures, and opportunities for ocean engagement necessitates a localized, nuanced approach (Lemus et al. 2014).
Based on the results of the survey, COSEE plans to further develop outreach that includes traditional practices related to marine conservation. The importance of issues to the Native Hawaiian community combined with the growth in education programs surrounding traditional practices underscore the need to include culturally relevant education concepts. Activities tied to specific Hawaiian management techniques such as fish ponds may resonate with this group, helping to bridge the connection between cultural practices and ocean conservation.
Ocean use as predictor of attitude towards ocean conservation
In this study, ocean use was examined as one indicator of how participants related to the local ocean environment. The findings suggest that involvement in particular uses, whether they be commercial, scientific, cultural, or recreational has some relationship to participants’ attitudes towards ocean conservation. Outreach activities and programs targeted at raising interest and participation in ocean conservation may need to be developed for several distinct audiences. Commercial tour operators, for instance, may have different ways of participating in ocean conservation, such as putting up awareness posters on their boats or subscribing to eco-certifications. Recreation groups, on the other hand, who may do better with conservation efforts related to their sport (e.g., surfing tournament fundraiser). Recreation activities were the predominant ocean use type in Hawaii and proved to be significant predictors of reported importance of environmental issues and willingness to learn or participate in environmental activities. This is consistent with other studies that have linked participation in outdoor recreation activities to positive attitude and behavior changes towards the environment (Barker and Dawson 2010; Larson et al. 2011). Surfers, swimmers, and snorkelers were more likely to report interest in participating in ocean conservation activities, and swimmers were more likely to be interested in learning about ocean conservation issues. The underlying reasons for this distinction with swimmers are currently unclear, but may be related to the broader demographic variability of swimmers as a group in this survey.
Those who indicated participation in paddling activities scored significantly higher in valuing preservation of traditional practices for ocean conservation. This example illustrates that there can be overlapping uses for certain activities like paddling, which can be viewed as a recreational activity, cultural practice, or both. Canoe paddlers were also more likely to report that environmental issues in the survey were crucial to Hawaii conservation and were more interested in participating in ocean conservation. Canoe paddling is a highly social activity with clubs and competitions throughout the state. Given these findings, focusing on paddlers and their organizations may prove to broaden local environmental outreach. COSEE Island Earth has begun partnering with ocean conservation organizations such as Eyes of the ReefFootnote 6 to provide educational outreach programming at paddling competitions.
Many participants also reported professional use of the ocean; ocean scientists were more interested than other marine-related career groups in engaging in ocean conservation activities. It may be that conservation work is a part of their profession, or that they have an understanding of the negative impact of issues such as climate change or ocean acidification. If true, then this argues for including scientists in ocean conservation outreach activities, as well as extending research opportunities to the community through citizen science-type activities (Barlow et al. 2015; Crain et al. 2014; Thorson et al. 2014). Allowing community members to develop a close relationship to their environment through science may change their relationship to the ocean and in turn support a change in their habits. In contrast, those participants who used the ocean commercially were significantly less likely to report that the environmental issues in the survey were crucial to Hawaii ocean conservation. Since commercial operators often introduce individuals to ocean recreation, this is an important group to better target for marine conservation messaging and provide educational opportunities. More research is needed to explore these differences in perceived urgency of ocean environmental issues, but as a first step towards encouraging this user group, COSEE Island Earth recently provided a 10-week ocean communication workshop for tour operators in the Kona district of Hawaii Island.
Limitations to the study
All efforts to survey a heterogeneous section of the population were made when designing the study; however, since participants already had existing interest in ocean recreation (as a result of being at the Ocean Expo) and were 97.1 % local, an inherent bias in the study population must be acknowledged. Marino et al. (2010) recommend the incorporation of participant comparison groups when working with a nonrandom sample. Unfortunately, due to the time and financial limitations, no additional sampling was completed. However, the survey was distributed over a 2-year period to capture variation from year to year in the expo participants, and the survey was shared with other marine education partners on different Hawaiian Islands for distribution and use. As noted earlier, an additional sampling bias may also be at work due to the nonrandom nature of survey distribution without a control sample, and the number of surveys that were not included in analysis because they were not complete. For instance, those individuals who did not complete their survey may overall be less interested in ocean conservation issues. Additionally, all ocean enthusiasts that were sampled had the socioeconomic means to pay admission for the expo ($7) and had to live or reside within traveling distance to where the event was held. While appropriate for an exploratory study, findings from stepwise regression should be viewed with caution because of the possibility of overestimating significance tests. For these reasons, generalization of these finding should be made carefully.