The Relationship Between Public Understanding of Science and Support for Environmental Restoration

by Katherine Lyttle

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: environmental restoration; environment; sand dunes; dune restoration; Mason Bay; Stewart Island; New Zealand; science communication; public understanding of science
Record ID: 1297236
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/4912


Environmental restoration can be controversial, with conflict between those undertaking restoration and the public. The controversy can often be attributed to a gap in understanding between these two groups. This thesis addresses the gap in two ways. The first section, a traditional academic component develops and examines the research question: Does scientific understanding affect public support for environmental restoration? The second component is a creative non-fiction work designed to bridge the gap between scientists and the public, using a specific case study, the Mason Bay dune restoration project. A literature review and a questionnaire are used to address the research question. The literature review examines public understanding of, and attitudes towards science. Two specific studies, the Chicago Restoration Controversy (Gobster, 2006), and weed control in Hawaii (Warner & Kinslow, 2013) are used to explore the public’s understanding of, and attitudes to environmental restoration. Specifically the review identifies which factors are most influential on public support for environmental restoration. Nature and restoration are viewed in different ways by different groups, with personal backgrounds and values being the most important factors in shaping public opinion. The literature review finds no simple answer to the research question of whether scientific understanding affects attitudes towards environmental restoration. The empirical component of the academic thesis utilises a questionnaire to identify whether understanding of a specific ecosystem leads to support for its restoration. The Mason Bay dune restoration project, the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere (Department of Conservation, 2006), involves the eradication of the introduced marram grass (Ammophila arenaria), to restore native plants, animals, and a naturally functioning dune system. A survey of visitors to Mason Bay shows an indirect link between knowledge about dunes and support for dune restoration. Respondents who are interested and aware of dunes are more likely to support restoration than those who are not. Furthermore, visitors who had read information about the dune restoration project provided in the nearby hut are also more likely to support the restoration project. Overall, while there is a link between scientific understanding and environmental restoration, it is complex. Factors such as the source of information; public participation; appearance of the ecosystem; and personal values play crucial roles in influencing public support for specific environmental restoration projects. Each project must be dealt with on a case-to-case basis, as each restoration projects differs widely in circumstance and outcome. The creative work entitled Mason Bay- A world in a dune of sand is a response to the conclusions found in the academic work. It is designed to bridge the gap between scientists and the general public by raising awareness and interest in sand dunes and the Mason Bay dune restoration project.