Honors College Thesis


Studying the most effective modes of marine science communication on plastic pollution in the oceans Public Deposited

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  • The ocean provides many ecosystems services and yet humans have viewed the ocean as a black hole for trash since the 1950s. With recycling not getting to the source of the problem, smarter consumer choices are being targeted, specifically choices centered around the use of plastic. Thus efficient, useful communication is needed to inform consumer choices. This thesis project studied the most effective modes of marine science communication regarding plastic pollution in the ocean. We hypothesized that visual modes of science communication would be more effective at increasing knowledge of plastic pollution in the oceans and inspiring changes in plastic use. In a survey, participants viewed 4 communication products on marine plastic pollution (video, infographic, image, and text) and ranked those products, as well as how likely they were to complete different action items. The survey was distributed through environmental science list-servs, resulting in a high proportion of respondents self-identifying as having high knowledge around marine plastic pollution. A literature review and the results from the survey identified the following key concepts when communicating: use visuals, provide context, identify solutions, keep visuals simple and free of “clutter”, and keep the message succinct. While there was a general agreeance that visual modes of science communication are preferred over text modes, we found that context and solutions must also be included with the visuals to accomplish effective communication. A higher knowledge of the topic was related to more action towards the issue, a statement supported by previous studies. Additionally, location, measured here as in Oregon, or outside Oregon, may have some impact on willingness to complete anti-plastic action items, with respondents outside Oregon rating their willingness higher. This survey informed a COVID-19 specific carousel product, evaluated with a 2nd survey. Participants of the 2nd survey were similarly highly-educated and highly rated their knowledge of marine plastic pollution. Respondents requested data-driven and negative, aggressive imagery communicating the effects of marine plastic pollution on wildlife. However, these desires are in contrast with accepted science communication strategies that highlight solution-oriented actions. Because of our highly educated sample, this indicates a discord between highly educated members of our society and skills in science communication. Science communication is of great importance to all STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) fields, making the realization of this discord startling. Future work would incorporate a more diverse population, specifically amongst people rating their knowledge of marine plastic pollution as average or less than most people.
  • Key Words: science communication, marine science, marine plastic pollution, environmental literacy, behavior change, COVID-19 pandemic
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