Building community support for coastal management — What types of messages are most effective?
Sustainable management of coastal ecosystems requires engaged communities—communities that support sustainable management policies and are willing to adopt behaviours that promote waterway health. Information provision is a common component of engagement practices, yet little is known about what type of information will most effectively motivate engaged communities. We conducted an experimental study (N = 702) examining the effectiveness of different messages about benefits of sustainable coastal management. We examined two messages about cultural ecosystem services (economic benefits and lifestyle benefits), messages focused on conservation benefits, and a ‘control’ message, which mentioned threats to coastal ecosystems but no benefits of management. We also compared the effect of factual and moral arguments on engagement outcomes. Overall, economic messages generated lower intentions to adopt household behaviours, and reduced information seeking across the whole sample. Moral arguments were not more effective than messages using factual arguments. In fact, factual arguments were associated with greater policy support and behavioural intentions. We also examined the role of participant values, political orientation and knowledge on message effectiveness. Participants with a conservative political orientation exhibited poorer responses to framed messages, compared with the control message. These findings highlight the importance of considering message content when communicating with communities. Specifically, messages about ecosystem services may not be superior to environmental messages when communicating about local issues. Recommendations for effective communication commonly suggest aligning messages with audience values. While our findings do not contradict this, they do serve as a reminder to avoid simple assumptions about what these values may entail, and that groups less supportive of conservation goals are likely to require more specific strategies to enhance communication effectiveness.