This World Ocean Day our charity is excited to share the results of the largest Ocean literacy survey ever undertaken in England and Wales.

Together with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), we have published the largest ever Ocean literacy survey to date revealing that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them with 78% of the public stating that they have or would make lifestyle changes to protect the marine environment.

The survey underlines the important link between the health of our Ocean and the multiple pressures on it – with 94% believing that the fate of the ocean and humans is inextricably linked.

The significant survey also provided evidence of the strong physical and mental health benefits of our marine environment with 80% of those who visited reporting physical benefits and 84% reporting mental health benefits.

‘Ocean literacy’ can be defined as the understanding of our individual and collective impact on the Ocean and its impact on our lives and wellbeing.

This survey held in England and Wales, measured public awareness, attitudes, knowledge and behaviours related to the marine environment and ocean climate change.

The survey reveals feelings the public associate most with the marine environment are a sense of awe and wonder (42%) and concern (49%). The survey also found strong support for global action on climate change, biodiversity loss and marine pollution.

We hope this survey will help shape future policies as the UK puts nature at the heart of its G7 and COP26 Presidencies and is championing and driving forward the protection of at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 through the Global Ocean Alliance.

The key findings include:

  • A strong connection to the ocean with 85% of people saying that protecting the marine environment was personally very important or important.
  • Evidence of strong physical and mental health benefits of our marine environment. Of those who had visited our coastlines, 80% said it was good for their physical health and 84% said it was good for their mental health.
  • The public feel that marine litter and plastic pollution (74%) is the greatest threat to the marine environment, followed by the chemical pollution (57%) and overfishing (54%).
  • Protecting and restoring marine environments which remove carbon was the top choice to address the effect of climate change on our marine environment (43%), closely followed by international commitments to reducing emissions (41%).
  • The study reveals the role that documentaries such as the popular Blue Planet and the ‘Attenborough effect’ may have on the understanding of the threats facing our seas with 47% of people receiving information on the state of our oceans from wildlife documentaries.
  • 78% said they had or plan to make lifestyle changes to protect the marine environment. The most common reasons for making these changes was concern about climate change (69%) and a desire to be greener (68%).

Nicola Bridge, Head of Conservation Education & Communications here at the Ocean Conservation Trust said:

“As the Ocean conservation charity working to develop this survey, we are thrilled to learn that more of the public are understanding climate change and its link to human actions. It is especially important to learn from this work to push for increased protection of our Ocean during UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.”

Dr Emma McKinley, Cardiff University

“This work provides us with much needed information about the connections people across England and Wales have with our coasts and ocean. As we continue to work to understand the complex relationships that different people and communities have with our ocean and coastal spaces, it is encouraging to see so many people recognising the direct links between the ocean, coasts and people. This survey directly contributes to our understanding about various aspects of ocean literacy and provides us with evidence and valuable insights which will shape the actions and behaviour change needed to address the challenges facing both ocean and climate.”

Rebecca Pow, Environment Minister said:

“It is clear people feel a strong connection with our beautiful ocean and coastlines. This is not only really welcome it is also so important if we are to tackle the impacts of climate change, biodiversity loss and preserve our marine environment for future generations to enjoy.

The UK is a global leader in marine protection. We have already established a ‘blue belt’ of marine protection extending across 38% of UK waters and are using our COP26 and G7 Presidencies to put ocean recovery at the heart of international action.”

Overall, the survey reveals that the public recognises the integral role our marine environment can play in combatting climate change as well as its day-to-day value to us as individuals.

As the UN Decade of Ocean Science of Sustainable Development (the ‘UN Ocean Decade’) formally launches, this survey highlights how ocean science will play a key role in informing efforts to improve our understanding of our marine environment and how best to increase Ocean sustainability and resilience to help combat climate change.

We hope this survey will contribute to our understanding as the UK scales up efforts to find collaborative solutions and share scientific expertise, including ocean literacy, to drive ocean action.

This survey will provide useful insights to help the Ocean Conservation Trust shape future public engagement. It will also inform future policy and help Defra, other partner organisations and stakeholders understand more about the awareness of Ocean issues in England and Wales.

Full report

Survey information

Across England and Wales, 8,440 people over the age of 16 participated in the online survey (6,032 England and 2,248 Wales). Fieldwork was conducted between 16 February and 15 March 2021. Survey results were weighted to be representative of the population of interest.
The Ocean Literacy survey is part of the larger project “Understanding Ocean Literacy and ocean climate-related behaviour change in the UK” delivered in partnership by Defra and the Ocean Conservation Trust and in collaboration with Natural Resources Wales which also included an evidence review of Ocean Literacy and Ocean-Climate related behaviour which was undertaken by Dr Emma McKinley (Cardiff University) and Dr Daryl Burdon (Daryl Burdon Ltd.).