This is an interdisciplinary course with a focus on the science behind public engagement in the service of marine conservation issues.  While it is my intent that the specific examples will change from year to year, reflecting current events and cutting-edge initiatives, it is the overall goal of this course to understand the important contribution of the social sciences—and research on public perceptions and pro-environmental behavior in particular—to maintaining and improving the health of the world’s oceans.

There is growing alarm about the health of the world’s oceans.  While overfishing has long been the focus of study, campaigning, and policy interventions, issues like marine plastic pollution and species loss due to climate change and habitat degradation have more recently captured our attention.  Yet, I believe there is also reason for hope.  2021-2030 will be the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (https://www.oceandecade.org), and a recent article in Science called for “A new narrative for the ocean” reflects an optimism about our ability to find constructive and collaborative solutions to marine conservation issues which incorporate innovative input from the natural and social sciences, communities, governments, and business.  As Lubchenco and Gaines (2019)[1] write:

In healing the ocean, we can heal ourselves. The ocean sustains and feeds us. It connects us. It is our past and our future.

The ocean is not too big to fail, nor is it too big to fix. It is too big to ignore.

In light of this renewed focus on the ocean, there is growing recognition of the importance of public engagement in addressing marine conservation issues, and of employing sound behavior change and informational strategies as part of effective policy and governance, and broader structural change.  In this course we examine key current efforts to raise public awareness of the health of oceans and to inspire sustained and positive behavior change.  We also take a look at efforts related to (i) certification schemes and product labelling, (ii) social movements, framing, and advocacy, and (iii) behavioral interventions.  We use current examples from marine fisheries, marine aquaculture, marine plastic pollution, and ocean biodiversity and endangered species conservation to illustrate these concepts – although this list is by no means exhaustive!  In our readings and cases we also examine the role of aquariums, social movement organizations, scientist-advocates, citizen-scientists, and private companies in these efforts.  Throughout, we take a critical look at public engagement and individual behavior change campaigns in effecting meaningful, just, and transformative social change in support of marine conservation.

My overall goal for this course is for students to feel empowered to engage the public on an environmental topic of interest to them.  Through this class students develop a deeper understanding of the science and practice of public engagement, and leave the class with a set of tools and approaches to support improved and effective public engagement—for marine conservation and beyond.

These public engagement campaigns are an original product of these efforts; initiated, researched, and designed by small teams of students in ENVIRON 305.002.

[1] Lubchenco, J. & S.D. Gaines (2019) A new narrative for the ocean.  Science 364 (6444): 911. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/364/6444/911.full.pdf