Public knowledge of marine biodiversity
Stakeholders of the coastal zone range from the very young to the very old and, as a result, constitute very different audiences. Knowledge levels of marine biodiversity vary enormously, even within a single audience. Although more than 50% of the European population lives within the coastal zone, some people rarely visit the seashore.
Surveys of university undergraduate students and coastal tourists by MarBEF projects (BIOFUSE and ArctEco, respectively) showed a wide variation in how biodiversity loss and conservation in Europe were perceived and also in how willing those surveyed would be to pay to preserve biodiversity.
These target groups were also used to obtain an understanding of the level of awareness of environmental issues within the community and this, in turn, helped to refine MarBEF’s communication strategies.
Awareness and understanding of marine biodiversity issues should not be confined to the scientific community. Promoting and developing interest and awareness of marine biodiversity should also be focused on the non-scientist. Marine biodiversity issues are appreciated by a much wider audience than the scientific community, though unfortunately the information conveyed through the media is frequently limited to pollution incidents (e.g., the Prestige disaster) or to specific habitats (e.g., coral reefs). However, more recently the debate on climate change and its potential impacts has focused the public’s attention on broader international issues.
In order to try and bridge this information gap MarBEF developed an outreach strategy to provide a structured approach to disseminating information aimed at all ages, from the very young to the very old, and all levels of knowledge.
MarBEF scientists produced over 200 high quality peer-reviewed science papers during the MarBEF project and will continue to produce papers beyond its lifetime. Scientific research results were disseminated through presentations and posters at scientific conferences and meetings worldwide. Individual research projects each had their own website, giving both the researchers involved and the scientific community at large greater accessibility.
A biannual newsletter was produced by the outreach team and this acted as a dissemination tool, not just to those in the MarBEF network but also to the wider marine community in Europe. The newsletter was distributed to a broad audience of marine scientists, science communicators, environmental managers and policymakers. As the readership was so wide, articles were written in an interesting manner that grabbed the attention and the understanding of the non-specialist reader. Over 8000 copies of the MarBEF newsletter were distributed worldwide and more than 9300 were downloaded from the website.
To the general public
With the rapid advances in communications technology, people now venture to the internet rather than libraries to get their questions answered. Therefore, MarBEF ensured that there was easy access to information on marine biodiversity on the outreach website including a ‘what’s new?’ section which was regularly updated with compelling stories and novel, stimulating material on marine biodiversity for the general public from a variety of sources.
Frequently asked questions on marine biodiversity were answered and information on the opportunities to become actively involved or to find out more about marine biodiversity were given. Relying on people to find out for themselves was not enough: MarBEF also went out to meet the public by participating in a number of roadshows. These included a Bioblitz in Poland, the British Science Association festival in Dublin and the UK, and the World Conference in Valencia, which had a week of public outreach on marine biodiversity.
To studentsStudent knowledge on biodiversity
A number of desk studies were carried out to identify what information was already available in terms of marine biodiversity education. This resulted in two review papers, which are available on the outreach pages, on European school languages and science policies and existing marine biodiversity websites in Europe. Unfortunately, the reviews highlighted the lack of educational material on marine biodiversity being taught in schools throughout Europe and secondly the lack of resources for teachers on the topic.
A fun approach to dissemination of resources was undertaken, particularly when targeting the very young ages. Resources included drawing competitions, games, puzzles and activities. Educational organisations and students were the primary target of the activity sheets, which also had a fun element. The activity sheets contained sustainable material covering the basic concepts in marine biodiversity. Here, the information was tailored to specific age categories, made easily accessible in pdf format and, for the younger age categories (<12yrs), provided in five European languages (Polish, Estonian, Spanish, Finnish and English).
MarBEF produced an on-line paper, using the curriculum in Ireland as a case study, to illustrate how marine biodiversity topics could, potentially, be introduced quite simply to a curriculum. It is clear that the education curriculum is only the starting point or platform which teachers use to educate their students. However, from this platform teachers must engage their students by setting suitable learning challenges while taking into consideration the diverse learning needs and any potential barriers to learning by the students.
A Marine Biodiversity Wiki (online encyclopedia) was developed under the banner of MarBEF and is linked in depth with the Coastal Wiki information pages in order to avoid duplication of articles. There are currently over 100 articles on a variety of topics directly related to marine biodiversity on the Wiki. This can be searched by the public but only registered MarBEF members can edit the articles, ensuring that they are of a high scientific quality.
Europe has an existing network of high quality research institutions operating in all the European regional seas. Many institutions have an outreach and education programme operating in isolation and linked to current research of the organization. MarBEF provided the opportunity to bring the educational activities together to share ideas and best practice, provide a common European monitoring resource and enthuse the younger generation in the marine science of European seas while providing opportunities for cultural exchanges. This European network started with a pilot project, MoBIDiC (European Education Marine Monitoring Network) or, in other words, “the school goes to the beach”.
MoBIDiC is now operating regularly in Portugal with ten schools and three volunteer groups with a biannual monitoring exercise and several other projects. Periodic monitoring exercises are performed by young students and their teachers under the supervision of researchers. Data obtained is stored in a database open to the public. This allows students to compare data from different places and different years. The first “spring school” was held in Porto in 2009. This workshop was attended by high school students and researchers from five countries. Different field and laboratory protocols were used and compared and there was a lively discussion on what should and could be achieved in a European network of students for marine biodiversity. The results from this workshop were used to continue to build this network beyond MarBEF and to continue to encourage the exchange of young students. Other existing monitoring projects with schools and volunteers connected with MarBEF institutions are also integrating to increase the European network.
- Heip, C., Hummel, H., van Avesaath, P., Appeltans, W., Arvanitidis, C., Aspden, R., Austen, M., Boero, F., Bouma, TJ., Boxshall, G., Buchholz, F., Crowe, T., Delaney, A., Deprez, T., Emblow, C., Feral, JP., Gasol, JM., Gooday, A., Harder, J., Ianora, A., Kraberg, A., Mackenzie, B., Ojaveer, H., Paterson, D., Rumohr, H., Schiedek, D., Sokolowski, A., Somerfield, P., Sousa Pinto, I., Vincx, M., Węsławski, JM., Nash, R. (2009). Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning. Printbase, Dublin, Ireland ISSN 2009-2539