Written by Chung-Ling Chen
Sea used to be a symbol of danger and was considered a far-removed place for people in Taiwan. This is due to the long imposition of martial law during 1949 and 1987. This period highly restricted peoples’ access to the sea. Following the lifting of martial law in 1987, coastal zones have been gradually liberated, marine affairs emphasised, coastal developments increased, and marine environmental problems surfaced in the wake of booming economic developments since the 1980s. In this social, economic and political context, it is interesting to know how a group of people who grew up after 1987, and whom have potential leverage in shaping the course of a country’s policy on the marine environment in the future, perceive the sea.
University students are regarded as the future decision-makers of society and have a high likelihood of becoming opinion-shapers in terms of the environment. Their awareness of the marine environment will therefore have a significant influence on sustainable marine development. This research focused on a group of university students in Taiwan and examined their awareness of the marine environment. Marine environmental awareness is essential to the environmental sustainability and important to the development of ocean citizenship, which describes a relationship between our everyday lives and the health of the marine environment. Marine awareness consists of three main dimensions: environmental attitude, knowledge, and behaviour.
“Students generally possessed a highly positive attitude towards the marine environment and a moderate self-reported level of marine knowledge, but were not actively engaged in environmental protection endeavours, particularly ones involving spending personal income or taking legal or political action.“
An empirical research was conducted in 2013 using a questionnaire survey method. The questionnaire consisted of three main parts: environmental attitude, knowledge concerning major marine and coastal issues, and environmental behaviour. The questions from the first section were a modified version of the New Environmental Paradigm by incorporating the concept of sustainability and adding marine characteristics to original statements. The questions of the second part derived from an extensive review of official websites directly concerned with marine affairs and public education on ocean issues and consultations with experts. These questions were deemed by experts to be important ones for citizen to know about at the time of the survey. Questions were presented in a ‘how much do you know about’ format as a way to measure students’ self-assessed knowledge of marine issues. The questions for the last part were designed following the five categories of environmental actions proposed by Hungerford et al. (1996): persuasion, consumer action, eco-management, political action, and legal action. The items in the above three parts were measured in a five-point Likert-type scale.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, there were a total of 70 universities and 438,135 students in 2013 (not including specialised universities such as the military, police, or occupational educational programmes). A two-stage sampling method was employed to ensure that the respondent sample comprised students from universities across all geographical areas (north, central, south and east) and that the sample size of each selected university was large enough. The first stage concerned the selection of 20 universities for the sampling of students. The second stage determined the sample size of each selected university and the ways of conducting surveys. The survey was conducted in May and June 2013 and a total of 825 valid samples were obtained.
Students generally possessed a highly positive attitude towards the marine environment and a moderate self-reported level of marine knowledge, but were not actively engaged in environmental protection endeavours, particularly ones involving spending personal income or taking legal or political action. This, in turn, suggests a gap between ‘widespread greening’ of university students and their low engagement in environmental action. This type of gap between attitude and action has also been identified in previous research. The students own experiences and knowledge in marine-related activities, particularly in marine conservation, were important in promoting environmental responsible behaviours.
Three approaches were proposed to close the gap between widespread environmental concerns and low engagement in environmental action: enhance marine education and experience in marine-related activities, create safe recreational spaces on coastal areas, and reinforce legal education. Specific ways include having more marine courses in colleges, establishing environmental clubs dedicated to marine conservation, arranging guided ecotourism activities, creating a safe beach environment for recreation, increasing understanding of beach potential hazards (e.g., rip currents) and ways of avoiding dangers, and instilling legal education, particularly marine environmental law, into students.
It is envisioned that by implementing the above approaches and consequently increasing students’ marine environmental awareness, students will ultimately develop a responsibility to make informed lifestyle choices, which will minimise their impact on the marine environment and further influence others to engage in marine environmental protection. This is important in the development of ocean citizenship as well as in the sustainability of the marine environment.
Following the realisation of this vision, sea will no longer be seen as a symbol of danger, nor will it be a far-removed place for the people of Taiwan. Instead, people will have their own interpretations of the sea, based on the sustainability of the oceans.
Chung-Ling Chen is Professor in the Institute of Ocean Technology and Marine Affairs and Department of Hydraulic and Ocean Engineering at National Cheng Kung University. Chen’s current research focuses on sustainable coastal development, fisheries policy, and marine debris management. Image Credit: American Institute in Taiwan/Flickr