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On the relationship between attitudes and environmental behaviors of key Great Barrier Reef user groups

Jeremy A. Goldberg, College of Business, Law and Governance, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia; CSIRO Land and Water, Townsville, Australia
Nadine A. Marshall, CSIRO Land and Water, Townsville, Australia; College of Marine and Environmental Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia
Alastair Birtles, College of Science and Engineering, James Cook University;College of Business, Law and Governance, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia
Peter Case, Bristol Business School, University of West England; College of Business, Law and Governance, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia
Matthew I. Curnock, CSIRO Land and Water, Townsville, Australia
Georgina G. Gurney, Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University


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Urgent action is required to address threats to ecosystems around the world. Coral reef ecosystems, like the Great Barrier Reef (GBR), are particularly vulnerable to human impacts such as coastal development, resource extraction, and climate change. Resource managers and policymakers along the GBR have consequently initiated a variety of programs to engage local stakeholders and promote conservation activities to protect the environment. However, little is known about how and why stakeholders feel connected to the GBR nor how this connection affects the proenvironmental behaviors they undertake. We present the results of 5891 surveys and show that the attitudes that residents, tourists, and tourism operators have about the GBR are closely tied to the behaviors and activities they take to protect the environment. Our findings suggest that the responsibility, pride, identity, and optimism that people associate with the GBR are significantly correlated to several proenvironmental behaviors, including recycling, participation in conservation groups, and certain climate change mitigation activities. Respondents who feel the strongest connection to the GBR take the most action to protect the environment. Tourism operators who strongly identify with the GBR take more action to protect the environment than those who do not. Encouraging individual identification with the GBR via targeted messages and engagement campaigns may assist not only in GBR conservation, but a wider sustainability movement as well. A better understanding of the individual attitudes and beliefs held by local stakeholders is a key first step toward effective communication to influence conservation activities.

Key words

attitudes; behavior change; identity; optimism; pride; resource management; responsibility; tourism; World Heritage

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087