Back in 2008 The Ocean Project tested the term “ocean acidification” (OA) in our market research and found it was nowhere on the public radar. This past spring, we decided to revisit the issue.
Even though our research reveals that current awareness of ocean acidification remains low among the public – even among ZAM visitors who generally have higher environmental literacy than non-visitors – it also reveals that ocean acidification is an emerging issue with significant potential for inspiring action. While ocean acidification has generally taken a backseat to larger discussions of climate change and global warming, our research as well as work by The Ocean Conservancy shows that ZAMs can take advantage of the low awareness to define the issue and help address the critical problem of carbon pollution.
This Google Trends graph gives a good snapshot of how recent the conversation about the issue is. Online discussion of ocean acidification was very low until around 2009, and has experienced peaks and valleys since then. In recent years, interest in the issue has risen among the scientific community, but the public has not yet caught up. Though lack of discussion on a serious issue may be frustrating to some, there’s a bright side.
Our research reveals that once the concept of ocean acidification – even the mere mention of the term – is introduced to a respondent, levels of concern about ocean health among respondents spiked significantly. This spike is emphasized when a brief description of OA is read to them. In other words, a basic familiarity with OA dramatically raises a respondent’s awareness and concern about the health of the ocean.
Therein lies the opportunity for aquariums and other informal science education centers. Our previous research has shown the public wants and expects institutions like zoos, aquariums, and museums to provide them with ways they can take action to help the environment. As trusted conservation messengers to the public, ZAMs play an important role in making people aware of the threat of ocean acidification and how they can help.
While the politicization of “climate change” can make it difficult for these institutions to address the issue of “climate change”, “ocean acidification” is largely free of this baggage. Where “climate change” is seen as a political identity, or even religion, “ocean acidification” currently appears to be able to transcend such political limitations.
Now is the ideal time for trusted institutions such as ZAMS to shape the narrative for the public, raise their awareness of the issue, and inspire conservation action.