Communicating the value of ocean protection

July 21, 2014

President Obama made headlines around the world recently when he announced plans to create the world’s largest marine preserve in the Pacific Ocean. When you are talking about two million square kilometers of pristine coral reefs, it’s easy to grasp the significance of a marine protected area.  The smaller protected areas closer to home—that conserve key estuaries, sloughs, kelp forests and coastal islands—tend to draw far less attention. But their benefits are outsized relative to their scale.

Resource Media has been working with ocean advocates for nearly a decade to raise awareness about marine protected areas. Sylvia Earle calls them “hope spots” because of their vital role in saving the seas. But, because the threats facing our ocean are hard to see from the shore, and the language of marine conservation unfamiliar to many audiences, we have some work to do to build the kind of public passion for marine protected areas that land-based parks enjoy.  And this is where good communications is key.

We recently teamed up with Michael Sutton, president of California’s Fish and Game Commission, to lead a training on marine protected area messaging, coordinated by the Marine Protected Area Education and Outreach Initiative. Below, I summarize our top five tips. Most apply to any issue, from energy efficiency to chemical policy:

  1. Put people in the picture. Plants and critters benefit from marine protected areas (they safeguard entire ecosystems), but they are not the only ones: fishermen enjoy more bountiful catches, coastal businesses see a boost in tourism, and tidepoolers and birders may see more wildlife.
  2. Meet your audience where they are (literally and figuratively.) That means having educational and interpretive materials, as well as trained communicators, available wherever your audience spends time.  It also means starting the conversation by connecting around common ground: shared passion for a special place, desire to preserve a familiar way of life, concern about jobs, etc.
  3. Bridge from the familiar to the unfamiliar. To help people understand the concept of marine protected areas, we often compare them to underwater parks. Then we can talk about the land-sea connection, or the importance of protecting the whole food web.
  4. Emphasize results, not process. Rather than focusing on the administrative framework or planning effort, we like to highlight the end result: safe havens for sea life and wonderful places for ocean enthusiasts to experience nature.
  5. End with a call to action. Hopefully you’ve piqued your audience’s interest, so strike while the iron is hot, and invite them to get involved.

For more tips on talking marine protection, you can watch the hour-long webinar on YouTube here.

Nicole Lampe