Anecdotal evidence from philanthropic fundraisers shows that virtual reality (VR) technology increases empathy and can influence people toward pro-environmental behavior. Non-profit organizations are increasingly marketing their causes using virtual reality and they report increased donations when VR technology is employed. In VR, users are immersed in situations intended to feel more like the real world through technology, such as 360° video viewed through 3D headsets that block out visual and auditory distractions. The framing of the message as either positive or negative has long shown to have an effect on behavior, although consensus on the impact of framing has not been reached in relation to encouraging contributions to public goods. This paper focuses on field experiments used to investigate the effects of varying degrees of visual immersion and positive versus negative message framing on respondents’ contributions to a conservation charity. Participants were exposed to a five-minute underwater film about coral reefs and the importance of protecting them. We employed a 2x2 experimental design using 3D head-mounted displays comparing 360° film footage vs. unidirectional film and a positive message vs. a negative message. After watching the film, each participant completed a short questionnaire and had the opportunity to donate to a marine conservation charity. In addition, we tested a control treatment where no video was observed. The video was filmed in Indonesia which is host to some of the world’s most biodiverse reefs that are under great threat from human activity. We also conducted the study in Indonesia, sampling a total of 1006 participants from the Bogor city area and tourists on the island of Gili Trawangan—which is popular for scuba diving and snorkeling. We find significant differences in observed behavior and reported emotions between all treatments compared to the control condition. Among the tourist sample, we find significant differences between the 360° film with a negative message which garnered significantly larger average donation amounts compared to the unidirectional film with both positive and negative framing. Overall, we can infer from these studies that virtual reality is an effective way to raise awareness of environmental threats and encourage behavioral action, especially when tailored to target groups. New technology, such as the VR head-mounted display, is highly effective at attracting interest which is an important point to encourage organizations to invest in new technologies.
Food for Thought
Evaluating how wildlife conservation laws are implemented is critical for safeguarding biodiversity. Two agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (FWS and NMFS; Services collectively), are responsible for implementing the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), which requires federal protection for threatened and endangered species. FWS and NMFS’ comparable role for terrestrial and marine taxa, respectively, provides the opportunity to examine how implementation of the same law varies between agencies. We analyzed how the Services implement a core component of the ESA, section 7 consultations, by objectively assessing the contents of >120 consultations on sea turtle species against the requirements in the Services’ consultation handbook, supplemented with in-person observations from Service biologists. Our results showed that NMFS consultations were 1.40 times as likely to have higher completeness scores than FWS consultations given the standard in the handbook. Consultations tiered from an FWS programmatic consultation inherited higher quality scores of generally more thorough programmatic consultations, indicating that programmatic consultations could increase the quality of consultations while improving efficiency. Both agencies commonly neglected to account for the effects of previous consultations and the potential for compounded effects on species. From these results, we recommend actions that can improve quality of consultation, including the use of a single database to track and integrate previously authorized harm in new analyses and the careful but more widespread use of programmatic consultations. Our study reveals several critical shortfalls in the current process of conducting ESA section 7 consultations that the Services could address to better safeguard North America’s most imperiled species.
Rapid ocean warming due to climate change poses a serious risk to the survival of coral reefs. It is estimated that 70–90 percent of all reefs will be severely degraded by mid-century even if the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Climate Agreement is achieved. However, one coral reef ecosystem seems to be more resilient to rising sea temperatures than most others. The Red Sea’s reef ecosystem is one of the longest continuous living reefs in the world, and its northernmost portion extends into the Gulf of Aqaba. The scleractinian corals in the Gulf have an unusually high tolerance for the rapidly warming seawater in the region. They withstand water temperature anomalies that cause severe bleaching or mortality in most hard corals elsewhere. This uniquely resilient reef employs biological mechanisms which are likely to be important for coral survival as the planet’s oceans warm. The Gulf of Aqaba could potentially be one of the planet’s largest marine refuges from climate change. However, this unique portion of the Red Sea’s reef will only survive and flourish if serious regional environmental challenges are addressed. Localized anthropogenic stressors compound the effects of warming seawater to damage corals and should be mitigated immediately. Reefs in the rest of the Red Sea are already experiencing temperatures above their thermal tolerance and have had significant bleaching, though they too would benefit from fewer local anthropogenic stressors. The countries bordering the entire Red Sea will need to cooperate to enable effective scientific research and conservation. The newly established Transnational Red Sea Center, based at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), can serve as the regionally inclusive, neutral organization to foster crucial regional scientific collaboration.
Although oceans provide critical ecosystem services and support the most abundant populations on earth, the extent of damage impacting oceans and the diversity of strategies to protect them is disconcertingly, and disproportionately, understudied. While conventional modes of conservation have made strides in mitigating impacts of human activities on ocean ecosystems, those strategies alone cannot completely stem the tide of mounting threats. Biotechnology and genomic research should be harnessed and developed within conservation frameworks to foster the persistence of viable ocean ecosystems. This document distills the results of a targeted survey, the Ocean Genomics Horizon Scan, which assessed opportunities to bring novel genetic rescue tools to marine conservation. From this Horizon Scan, we have identified how novel approaches from synthetic biology and genomics can alleviate major marine threats. While ethical frameworks for biotechnological interventions are necessary for effective and responsible practice, here we primarily assessed technological and social factors directly affecting technical development and deployment of biotechnology interventions for marine conservation. Genetic insight can greatly enhance established conservation methods, but the severity of many threats may demand genomic intervention. While intervention is controversial, for many marine areas the cost of inaction is too high to allow controversy to be a barrier to conserving viable ecosystems. Here, we offer a set of recommendations for engagement and program development to deploy genetic rescue safely and responsibly.
The integrated study of ocean health and human health is an emerging area of increasing global importance. Growing evidences demonstrate that the health of the ocean and the health of humans have always been and will continue to be, inextricably linked. Our actions toward the oceans will significantly influence the future of the whole planet and, in turn, our own health. The current review of these issues arose from a summer school in San Sebastian (Spain), from 5th to 7th June, 2019. An interdisciplinary group of researchers discussed key risks (e.g., microbial pollution, pharmaceuticals, harmful algal blooms, plastic pollution) and benefits (e.g., bathing waters, recreation, tourism) of the seas and global ocean for humanity; and debated the future priorities and potential actions for a joint Oceans and Human Health research and governance programme in Europe. The aim of this review is to contribute to the emerging scientific agenda on ocean health and human health, as well as coordinate efforts with stakeholders, policy makers and the general public. This agenda operates within the larger context of the upcoming United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development: 2021–2030, which strives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), including healthy (human) lives and well-being (SDG3) and conserving and sustainably using the oceans (SDG14), among others. In addition to summarizing some of the key risks and benefits, therefore, we describe the governance of oceans and health interactions (especially in Europe), and we finish by proposing a list of elements for potential future research priorities on oceans and human health.
On 1 March 2019, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (New York) declared 2021–2030 the “UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.” This call to action has the purpose of recognizing the need to massively accelerate global restoration of degraded ecosystems, to fight the climate heating crisis, enhance food security, provide clean water and protect biodiversity on the planet. The scale of restoration will be key; for example, the Bonn Challenge has the goal to restore 350 million km2 (almost the size of India) of degraded terrestrial ecosystems by 2030. However, international support for restoration of “blue” coastal ecosystems, which provide an impressive array of benefits to people, has lagged. Only the Global Mangrove Alliance (https://mangrovealliance.org/) comes close to the Bonn Challenge, with the aim of increasing the global area of mangroves by 20% by 2030. However, mangrove scientists have reservations about this target, voicing concerns that it is unrealistic and may prompt inappropriate practices in attempting to reach this target (Lee et al., 2019). The decade of ecosystem restoration declaration also coincides with the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which aims to reverse deterioration in ocean health. If executed in a holistic and coordinated manner, signatory nations could stand to deliver on both these UN calls to action.
Over the last 50 years, non-state actors, particularly environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), have taken on increasingly important roles in environmental governance. These roles have strengthened capacity in policy development and enhanced connections between decision makers and the public. How environmental NGOs navigate the tension between maintaining independence from government while also influencing decisions within political systems is not well understood. A change in the government of Canada following the 2015 national election provided an opportunity to explore the dynamic relationships between ENGOs and government. The government enlisted the assistance of ENGOs to achieve the 2020 national marine protection targets. In this study, the activities of two ENGOs—WWF-Canada (a national NGO) and the Ecology Action Centre (a local NGO)—regarding planning for three marine protected areas (MPAs) were studied. The objective of this research was to increase understanding of the role of ENGOs in decision making regarding MPAs, particularly focusing on how ENGOs use information in formal and informal processes to fulfil their mandates to promote marine conservation. Data were obtained from interviews; observations of formal and informal meetings and conversations; content analysis of email exchanges of the ENGOs with government staff, other ENGOs and numerous stakeholders; and review of key publications and public research reports. The results demonstrate the significant role of ENGOs in conservation governance and the major strategies that they use in deploying information at the science-policy interface. The ENGOs operate in an important boundary-spanning role using four types of action (hard advocacy, soft advocacy, gathering information and intelligence, and administration) and their interactions with diverse stakeholders. The ENGOs bridged interactions between government and stakeholders and transmitted scientific data and information, generated by researchers, to decision makers. The boundary-spanning activities of the ENGOs uniquely positions them in conservation decision processes. The ability to be flexible means that ENGOs can adapt their strategies to advance conservation policy and practice.
Effective management of marine systems requires quantitative tools that can assess the state of the marine social-ecological system and are responsive to management actions and pressures. We applied the Ocean Health Index (OHI) framework to retrospectively assess ocean health in British Columbia annually from 2001 to 2016 for eight goals that represent the values of British Columbia’s coastal communities. We found overall ocean health improved over the study period, from 75 (out of 100) in 2001 to 83 in 2016, with scores for inhabited regions ranging from 68 (North Coast, 2002) to 87 (West Vancouver Island, 2011). Highest-scoring goals were Tourism & Recreation (average 94 over the period) and Habitat Services (100); lowest-scoring goals were Sense of Place (61) and Food Provision (64). Significant increases in scores over the time period occurred for Food Provision (+1.7 per year), Sense of Place (+1.4 per year), and Coastal Livelihoods (+0.6 per year), while Habitat Services (-0.01 per year) and Biodiversity (-0.09 per year) showed modest but statistically significant declines. From the results of our time-series analysis, we used the OHI framework to evaluate impacts of a range of management actions. Despite challenges in data availability, we found evidence for the ability of management to reduce pressures on several goals, suggesting the potential of OHI as a tool for assessing the effectiveness of marine resource management to improve ocean health. Our OHI assessment provides an important comprehensive evaluation of ocean health in British Columbia, and our open and transparent process highlights opportunities for improving accessibility of social and ecological data to inform future assessment and management of ocean health.
Understanding the distribution of life’s variety has driven naturalists and scientists for centuries, yet this has been constrained both by the available data and the models needed for their analysis. Here we compiled data for over 67,000 marine and terrestrial species and used artificial neural networks to model species richness with the state and variability of climate, productivity, and multiple other environmental variables. We find terrestrial diversity is better predicted by the available environmental drivers than is marine diversity, and that marine diversity can be predicted with a smaller set of variables. Ecological mechanisms such as geographic isolation and structural complexity appear to explain model residuals and also identify regions and processes that deserve further attention at the global scale. Improving estimates of the relationships between the patterns of global biodiversity, and the environmental mechanisms that support them, should help in efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change and provide guidance for adapting to life in the Anthropocene.
While there is a growing understanding of theimportance of marine ecosystems for society (Selig et al., 2019), evidence shows that pressures from human activities on these ecosystems are increasing (Korpinen and Andersen, 2016; Lotze et al., 2018), putting the health of marine ecosystems at risk worldwide (Borja et al., 2016). In particular, Sustainable Blue Economy ambitions are becoming an important component of national socio-economic development strategies (e.g., this is called Blue Growth in Europe; Eikeset et al., 2018). This can result in increasing pressures on marine and coastal ecosystems if this development is not designed and implemented with care. Thus, despite current regulatory framework across the globe (illustrated inter alia by the Oceans Act in the USA or Canada and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive in Europe; Borja et al., 2008), it is likely that this challenging situation will continue into the future (Golden et al., 2017).