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More than a food and income provider: OFI Module I-3 PhD Candidate explores our multi-faceted relationship with the ocean that surrounds us

by Monica Engel, OFI Module I-3 PhD Candidate

After driving thousands of kilometres along the coast of Newfoundland, knocking at random doors (1,600 to be precise), and inviting people to share their thoughts and perceptions of the sea and how it is changing, I learnt that our relationship with the ocean is a complex and multifaceted love story. 

More than 1500 randomly selected people were personally approached and invited to participate in the study. A total of 776 people from 40 different coastal communities across the island completed the questionnaire. Carbonear, NL; March, 2019; ©Miguel Lorenzi. 

Sitting in an airplane that is about to land at St. John’s international airport, I hear these two young men talking about how much they miss the smell of the ocean when they are away. How they miss that fresh and salty air that comes from the east if you are on that side of the island. Later on, in a Cafe downtown, I overheard another two people daydreaming about their future life - find a remote job and live around the bay, by the ocean, where it is quiet and peaceful.


Like them, many others feel a strong connection with the ocean. After driving thousands of kilometres along the coast of Newfoundland, knocking at random doors (1,600 to be precise), and inviting people to share their thoughts and perceptions of the sea and how it is changing, I learnt that our relationship with the ocean is a complex and multifaceted love story. 


My doctoral research, which is in its final phase, emerged from this need to examine how coastal people relate to the ocean - how do people value the sea and its creatures? Are people aware of the changes happening in the ocean concerning climate, pollution and fish depletion? How do people perceive the extraction of marine resources? Is it commercial and recreational fishing acceptable? How about offshore oil and gas exploration? Is there any trust in the government in managing the sea? Do people fear about the future state of the marine environment? What kind of pro-environmental behaviours are they engaging in? What motivates people to demand better ways to secure a healthy ocean for the future?

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Using a structured questionnaire reflecting on these and other questions, my objective was to assess how people think about the ocean and marine issues, and which cognitive and emotional factors influence their individual decision-making processes, from deciding on reducing plastic consumption to supporting a management strategy, for example. To enrich the knowledge that numbers provided (I used several psychometric scales to access values, beliefs, emotions, attitudes, behaviours, etc.), people also had the opportunity to write about their thoughts.


After five months of driving around the island, I returned to my office with 776 completed questionnaires. Many of these questionnaires contained testimonials of the things people have witnessed over the years, their hopes about the future, concerns about management, and even appreciation notes (sometimes left with chocolates and other gifts) just thanking me for the opportunity to share their views, to be heard. 


I used a drop-off/pick-up method, and questionnaires were self-administered; unless someone preferred to complete it with me, and some people did. While sitting around the table and seeping tea, we talked about the sea. The advantage of this method is that it allows people to take their own time to complete the questionnaire. Given people a day or two to share their views also proportioned time to reflect. Although we did not talk much when I would approach them (a stranger with a different accent at their doorstep), thoughtful conversations would usually happen when retrieving the questionnaires.  

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Almost two years have passed since I went on my scientific expedition along the coast of this beautiful rocky island, listening to people and witnessing how deeply connected with the ocean Newfoundlanders are. Through music, food, arts, jobs, one can see all the ways in which people here relate, perceive and understand the sea. 

 

Funded by the Ocean Frontier Institute and the National Geographic Society, results of this work show that people, in general, value the ocean for its intrinsic and instrumental values, care about it, feel that they should be doing more for marine health, accept using the sea for fisheries more so than for oil and gas exploration, and fear about the future. The ways in which people imagine the ocean (their mental images) influence their thoughts and behaviours and reveal that the ocean is much more than a food and income provider. The ocean is beautiful, mysterious, dangerous; it is blue, cold, and fresh. The ocean is fish, seals, whales and puffins; it is boats, vacation and relaxation. But the ocean is also pollution, plastics and greed. The ocean is changing.  

Learn more:

To learn more and access publications related to this research visit https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Monica_Engel

My doctoral research, which is in its final phase, emerged from this need to examine how coastal people relate to the ocean - how do people value the sea and its creatures? Are people aware of the changes happening in the ocean concerning climate, pollution and fish depletion? How do people perceive the extraction of marine resources?

Funded by the Ocean Frontier Institute and the National Geographic Society, results of this work show that people, in general, value the ocean for its intrinsic and instrumental values, care about it, feel that they should be doing more for marine health, accept using the sea for fisheries more so than for oil and gas exploration, and fear about the future.

Written by Monica Engel

Monica is an OFI Ph.D. Candidate from Memorial University’s Geography department. She has a Master’s degree in Geography from the same university and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Unisinos University in Brazil. Her research focuses on the human dimensions of natural resources and wildlife management and conservation. Over the past 8 years, Monica has been involved in a variety of projects in different countries and contexts, investigating issues ranging from people’s coexisting with jaguars, to rewilding landscapes, and protecting wild birds. Monica’s doctoral research is centred around examining coastal communities’ relationship with the ocean in Newfoundland from an environmental and social psychology perspective. With this project, she received the Early Career Grant from the National Geographic Society and the ISER Doctoral Fellowship from the Institute of Social and Economic Research at Memorial University. Monica's research is funded by Ocean Frontier Institute's  research module I-3For further information on her research, please contact her at m.engel@mun.ca.

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