Attitudes Toward Marine Environments In China
Coastal ecosystems such as bays, beaches, and wetlands serve as habitats for many marine species, and they represent some of the world’s most densely populated regions. Many countries are experiencing challenges in protecting marine animals and coastal biodiversity, including China.
Understanding public attitudes toward the environment, and marine life specifically, is key to preserving these biological resources. Research has found that people who are concerned about marine animals also tend to show stronger concern for environmental protection efforts. However, little is known about attitudes toward marine animals among Chinese coastal residents who live alongside them.
Researchers in this study used an online survey to collect information on environmental concern, attitudes toward marine life, and environment-related behavior among Chinese residents in 22 coastal areas (n=500; 59% women).
Environmental concern was assessed by asking respondents how strongly they agreed with a series of pro-ecological statements, which covered topics such as humans’ status in nature versus that of animals and plants, limits in the earth’s capacity to grow, and the impact of modern industrialization on nature. Statements related to animal welfare and the use of animals for food, research, hunting, fishing, and other activities were used to assess concern for marine animals. Personal behaviors such as membership and donation to environmental NGOs, reading energy-related news, beach visitation, and transportation preferences were also collected.
The results showed that public concern for the environment is high in coastal regions of China, with 89% of respondents supporting a pro-ecological worldview. However, only 16% of respondents claimed to be directly involved with environmental preservation activities (e.g., engaging with or donating to environmental protection organizations). A majority of respondents (70%) did not regularly follow news reports about clean energy.
Regarding their transportation preferences, survey respondents cited environmental issues and climate change (39%), economic factors/price (32%), and privacy/social status (32%) as reasons for their transportation preferences. Those who chose transportation methods because of environmental issues, were members of environmental NGOs, and frequently visited beaches were significantly more likely to show concern for marine animals compared to the rest of the survey respondents. Women in this study were more aware of environmental protection than men, and people from South China showed more environmental concern than those from North China.
The most significant indicator of concern for marine life was the attitude that humans “rule the world” and are superior in nature, thereby justifying the use of non-human species to satisfy their needs. Those who held this belief indicated less positive attitudes toward marine animal protection. They were also more likely to believe that marine animals could be used for any purpose including food, hunting, and medical research.
Conversely, those who did not support the human superiority viewpoint were more concerned for marine animal protection and more likely to believe in the importance of moderation in natural resource utilization and industrial development. They were also more aware of the negative impact of environmental disasters (e.g., floods, hurricanes) and more likely to recognize that the earth’s ability to grow is limited.
The authors note that China is an interesting location to study attitudes toward environmental and marine animal protection. This is because the government has traditionally managed environmental protection issues without room for public involvement. Such top-down management makes it difficult for environmental NGOs to gain visibility with the public, and it may explain why so few respondents (even those concerned with the environment) were involved with environmental non-profits. Indeed, many people in China believe that caring about the environment is the government’s responsibility.
Nevertheless, it is promising to see such strong concern for marine environments and animals in coastal regions of China. As these issues continue to gain traction in light of industrialization and climate change, it’s important for animal advocates to understand how the public feels about protecting marine life. Research like this can be used to inform future research and guide policymakers in developing successful strategies to protect coastal ecosystems.