AAAS survey: 80 percent of adults say we're hurting oceans


'Oceans for Everyone' town hall meeting to bridge gap between scientists, policymakers and the public

SEATTLE, WA, Feb. 15 Most adults believe that human activity is endangering the Earth's oceans, yet less than one-third feel empowered to influence positive change. This is a major finding of a national survey released today by AAAS, the world's largest general science society, in conjunction with a public town hall meeting on marine science issues.

Empowering average citizens by giving them a voice in setting the national research agenda is a primary goal of the town hall meeting, "Oceans for Everyone," hosted by the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology.

In preparation for the event, AAAS, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, surveyed 2,400 adults about marine science issues, asking questions ranging from the need for global action on ocean pollution to human impacts on coastal ecosystems.

Although only 31 percent of all survey respondents said they feel their actions could actually affect the health of the oceans, the survey also showed that Americans are nevertheless willing to try to do so. Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said they would eat less of certain kinds of fish if it would help the marine environment, for example. And, more than half support the use of public money for research and technology to reduce pollution.

"Marine life is disappearing faster than scientists can identify it, affecting our ecosystems and our food choices," said Alan I. Leshner, Chief Executive Officer of AAAS and Executive Publisher of Science Magazine. "The AAAS survey demonstrates that the public is deeply concerned about the environmental challenges facing our oceans and coastal regions and, given information and a voice in the discussion, is willing to back up that concern with personal action."

Ocean issues will be discussed during the town hall meeting from 2:00 until 5:00 p.m. Sunday, 15 February in Seattle at the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, as the debut initiative of the AAAS Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology. The new Center was founded to forge a better understanding between researchers and the general public on the increasingly complex scientific issues that affect our daily lives; and to enhance the public's input into scientific research agendas by creating opportunities for dialogue among policymakers, the public and the scientific community.

"We're hosting this marine science town hall meeting to encourage dialogue between the scientific community and the public. It's very timely because our survey also found that 65 percent of Americans don't trust scientists to put society's interests above their own personal goals," Leshner said. "AAAS established the Center for Public Engagement with Science and Technology to provide opportunities for meaningful dialogue, and I think this survey shows we identified a real need."

The town hall meeting will be moderated by Ira Flatow of National Public Radio's "Science Friday," and hosted by Leshner; with speakers Jane Lubchenco, chair of marine biology at Oregon State University; John R. Delaney, professor of oceanography at the University of Washington; and Usha Varanasi, director, Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Also participating in the event and a preceding news briefing will be Jeff Koenings, Director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and others.

AAAS joined with the Seattle Aquarium; the Pacific Science Center, Puget Sound Water Quality Action Team; Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS); Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO); and SeaChange to hold this event.

Key survey findings include:

  • Nearly 80 percent said they believe human stresses are endangering coastal regions and oceans.
  • Another 20 percent believe that the oceans are vast and healthy enough to absorb pollution and other human stresses.
  • 31 percent said they feel their personal actions do affect the health of oceans and coastal regions.
  • Nearly two-thirds (60 percent) said they would eat less of certain kinds of fish if it would help to protect natural resources.
  • Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) believe that the oceans should be protected in a global way, through international agreements.
  • 47 percent would support government regulations restricting the use of the seashore.
  • 46 percent would support local efforts to reduce business and economic development of coasts.

    The survey, conducted by Porter Novelli, was completed by mail in November 2003, involving 2,400 adults, ages 18 and older. Those answering questions were members of Synovate's consumer mail panel.

    The town hall meeting will be facilitated by Public Agenda, a non-partisan citizen engagement organization. The meeting will consist of both small group sessions and larger discussions among a cross-section of the public, policymakers, experts and stakeholders with a special interest in the issues at hand.

    Source: Eurekalert & others

    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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