Public Perceptions on the Local Marine Environment – Survey results

Author Emma Hall:

In December 2019, full-time students on the MSc Marine Science and Climate Change course at the University of Gibraltar surveyed the public to establish their perceptions towards Gibraltar’s marine environment. 230 people were sampled in the study and the results have helped to establish how future research can be more responsive to the concerns and priorities of the public.
This blog post talks through some of the results of the research and also includes a link to a new survey being conducted by Emma Hall as part of her dissertation project, investigating values and behaviours towards the marine and coastal environment in Gibraltar.
Respondents were asked “What are the main risks to Gibraltar’s marine environment?” and were requested to select three threats that they believed were most pressing. The most commonly selected risks were Marine Litter (20%) and Raw Sewage (17%) whilst the least selected threat was Invasive Species at 3% (Figure 1). These results are interesting as marine litter and sewage have been similarly selected by the public as priority risks in surveys from Scotland1, the U.S.2 and the U.K.3
The high selection of marine litter and sewage has more broadly been linked to their visual impacts and high risk to humans3 but may also represent a distinctly local or regional problem. Marine Litter has been rated a “critical issue” in the Mediterranean4 and previous issues with raw sewage at Western Beach and the outflow at Europa Point may have influenced public perceptions. This local influence is supported by the fairly high proportion of respondents that selected these geographic areas as having a negative impact on the marine environment.
Invasive species are frequently cited as a predominant threat to ecosystems and are often introduced by shipping5. In Gibraltar, the invasive algae Rugulopteryx okamurae has been impacting seabed communities and despoiling beaches since 20166. The risk of further invasive species introduction is elevated as 30% of global maritime traffic passes through the Straits of Gibraltar each year4. The results therefore identify a knowledge gap between the actual risk of invasive species in Gibraltar and the low level of perceived risk (Figure 1).
One explanation for the gap between scientific evidence and public perceptions of risk may be the sources used to garner information on the marine environment. In the survey, 63% of respondents selected the Internet and 17% chose Social Media as the source they would go to for information on the marine environment (Figure 2). Interestingly, 5% of respondents selected ‘Other’ and provided alternative local sources of knowledge, including observing the sea and shoreline, gathering information from family, asking local divers/fishermen and using contacts in marine industry.
Finally, when respondents were asked “What percentage of Gibraltar’s marine environment do you think should be protected?”, an overwhelming 53% of respondents selected that they thought all of the marine environment in Gibraltar should be protected. Although protecting 100% of marine environment would involve some unrealistic compromises and showcases the need for marine planning, this high “pro-conservation”7 enthusiasm indicates a strong support for local marine protection.
If you have found these results interesting, please click the following link to contribute to Emma’s dissertation research investigating values and behaviours towards the marine and coastal environment in Gibraltar
Active stakeholder engagement is necessary for the benefit of connecting the sea and its users for a more sustainable future. Science, first and foremost, has to be of benefit to society and we would like to thank the local community for engaging with our students in taking part in scientific research (Dr Awantha Dissanayake, Coordinator of the Marine Science and Climate Change programme).


1 Hinds, K., Carmichael, C. and Snowling, H. (2002) ‘Public attitudes to the environment in Scotland’, Edinburgh, Scottish Executive.
2 Spruill, V. N. (1997) ‘US public attitudes toward marine environmental issues’, Oceanography, 10, pp. 149-152.
3 Jefferson, R. L., Bailey, I., Laffoley, D. d’A., Richards, J. P. and Attrill, M. J. (2014) ‘Public perceptions of the UK marine environment’, Marine Policy, 43, pp. 327–337.
4 UNEP (2015) ‘Marine Litter Assessment in the Mediterranean’, United Nations Environment Plan – Mediterranean Action Plan, Athens: Greece, pp. 1-88.
5 Mack, R.N., Simberloff, D., Mark Lonsdale, W., Evans, H., Clout, M. and Bazzaz, F.A., (2000) ‘Biotic invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control’. Ecological applications, 10(3), pp.689-710.
6 García-Gómez, J. C. et al. “Rugulopteryx okamurae (E.Y. Dawson) I.K. hwang, W. J. Lee & H.S. Kim (Dictyotales, ochrophyta), alga exótica “explosiva” en el estrecho de Gibraltar. Observaciones preliminares de su distribución e impacto”. Almoraima. Revista de Estudios Campogibraltareños, 49, diciembre 2018. Algeciras. Instituto de Estudios Campo gibraltareños, pp. 97-113
7 Gall, S. C. and Rodwell, L. D. (2016) ‘Evaluating the social acceptability of Marine Protected Areas’, Marine Policy, 65, pp. 30–38.