Ocean literacy survey: headline findings

Headline findings from an online survey with the public in Scotland on the topic of ocean literacy - exploring the public's understanding of the marine environment. It is part of a wider project covering England and Wales.

Executive summary

This report presents the headline findings from an online survey with the public in Scotland on the topic of Ocean Literacy. It is part of a wider project covering England and Wales and follows up on research undertaken in 2021 (although Scotland not part of the 2021 survey)[1]. The survey was commissioned as part of the Understanding Ocean Literacy and Ocean Climate-related Behaviour Change in the UK project, commissioned by Defra in collaboration with Marine Scotland, Natural Resources Wales and the Ocean Conservation Trust. The primary focus of this survey is to better understand the extent and current levels of Ocean Literacy among the public across England, Wales and Scotland.

It is becoming increasingly clear that enhancing Ocean Literacy across society will be crucial to achieving the behaviour change needed to address the challenges facing our coasts and seas and manage them sustainably. This is recognised in a variety of policy instruments both nationally and internationally (for example the UN Sustainable Development Goals). There is, however, a lack of data on Ocean Literacy collected at the UK and the national level. Gathering this data is crucial if Ocean Literacy is to be used effectively as a policy mechanism and for future policy development. This survey was developed to begin to fill this knowledge and evidence gap.

The survey uses the IOC-UNESCO definition of 'Ocean Literacy' – 'an understanding of the ocean's influence on a person and their influence on the ocean'. Using this definition, the survey explores a range of Ocean Literacy dimensions, reflecting the growing understanding of what this concept means. Where once Ocean Literacy focused only on knowledge, it now encompasses a wider range of dimensions:

  • Awareness
  • Attitudes
  • Activism
  • Behaviours
  • Communication
  • Emotional connection and
  • Access, experience, and proximity with the marine environment.

The survey provides robust information on the extent to which the public understands and are aware of the benefits they receive from the marine environment. It also identifies pro-environmental behaviours among the public in relation to the marine environment, for example, switching to energy from marine renewable sources, buying more locally produced seafood products and using more public transport. Questions in the survey go on to measure the extent of the public's attitudes towards protecting the marine environment, including intentions for change. Information is also gathered on the level and type of engagement with the marine environment, including visits and activities undertaken in the last 12 months, and identifies the barriers and drivers that shape participation. Finally, it provides information on the impact of visits to the marine environment on wellbeing. The survey for 2022 also contained questions which cover awareness of blue carbon habitats and the perceived benefits of these marine habitats.

The key findings from the survey are that:

  • Respondents in Scotland value the marine environment, particularly appreciating the physical and mental health benefits it gave them (83% report that visits to the marine environment are good for their mental health and 80% report that visits are good for their physical health).
  • The overriding emotional response to the marine environment is concern (51%) followed by awe/wonder (41%). Most (85%) felt that it is important to protect the marine environment.
  • Marine litter / plastic pollution is perceived to be the pressure posing the biggest threat to Scotland's' marine environment (72% feel it to be the biggest threat facing the marine environment).
  • A large proportion of Scotland's respondents indicate a willingness to make lifestyle changes (79% have, or intend to make lifestyle changes), and these individual actions appeared to be the main way in which people take action to protect the marine environment. Other actions, such as contacting elected representatives and volunteering do not appear to be as well taken up. Of those who have not changed their lifestyle within the last 12 months, the main reason given is that they already feel they do as much as they can (38%).
  • Knowledge gaps exist for several marine terms; for example, eutrophication, UN Decade of Ocean Science, blue carbon, natural capital, marine citizenship, carbon sequestration, and Ocean Literacy are not well understood. (Over 50% of respondents had never heard of each of these terms).
  • People mostly get their information about the marine environment from the news (45%) and television or radio (44%).
  • The most popular destinations for visitors were coastal towns (93% of respondents report visiting this destination over the last 12 months) and sandy beaches (92% of respondents report visiting this destination over the last 12 months).
  • Walking is the most popular activity undertaken at the coast (61% of respondents enjoy walking without a dog, and 36% with a dog).

Summaries of the key findings for each of the seven dimensions of ocean literacy.


  • 11% believe health of the global marine environment is very good/good
  • 27% believe health of the marine environment around Scotland is very good/good
  • 28% with very good/good awareness of global challenges


Marine terms with highest understanding:

  • 92% climate change
  • 82% sustainable fishing
  • 69% Marine Protected Areas
  • 67% biodiversity
  • 66% sustainable development


Top 3 benefits from marine environment:

  • 47% diverse plant and animal habitats
  • 43% food
  • 38% renewable energy

Top 3 benefits of salt marshes and seagrass meadows:

  • Diverse habitats for wildlife (51% and 50%)
  • Natural forms of coastal protection (40% and 38%)
  • Pollution control and water purification (35% and 38%)

Most important habitat for carbon capture was tropical rainforest (61%)

3 highest threats to the marine environment:

  • 72% marine litter and plastic pollution
  • 55% chemical pollution
  • 51% over fishing

85% protecting marine environment very important/important

50% human activity contributes to climate change

85% supported the creation of Marine Protected Areas


Sources of knowledge about the marine environment:

  • 45% news
  • 44% television/radio
  • 36% documentaries
  • 28% social media


Top 3 pro-climate behaviours:

  • 81% recycling
  • 72% reduced use of single use plastic
  • 66% reuse plastic

79% have or plan on making lifestyle changes

Reasons for change:

  • 67% concern about climate
  • 63% desire to be greener

50% believe lifestyle has impact


Top pro-marine acts:

  • 35% lifestyle changes
  • 23% petitions

Personal or emotional connection

Top emotional terms:

  • 51% concern
  • 41% awe/wonder
  • 29% curiosity
  • 25% calm/relaxed

Access, experience & proximity

10% never visited the marine environment.

Top activities:

  • 61% walking
  • 36% dog walking
  • 30% photography/videography at coast/sea

Outcomes of visits:

  • 83% mental health
  • 80% physical health
  • 55% time with others


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

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