HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology


Oceanographic Center

First Advisor

Bernhard M. Riegl

Second Advisor

Richard E. Spieler

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Dickinson


About two thirds of the world’s population lives within 60 km of a coastline, however many members of the public do not recognize the importance of the nearby coral reef ecosystems. Although reef degradation is currently occurring at alarming rates, there is hope for the future of coral reef health. It is proven that humans have a large effect on the current health of coral reefs. This thesis aims to determine how marine scientists and educators can best influence the general public to affect behaviors to improve reef health. To do this involves taking analyzing the many effects of human attitudes and behaviors on reefs.

First, we study major approaches used by contemporary marine scientists to educate the broader public about marine ecology and reef degradation issues in particular. We will identify those initiatives and methods which show the most promise for altering human behaviors which threaten reef health. Secondly, we aim to define “populations of educational interest” by examining census data and other literature, which lead educators to determine important audiences that need to be educated.

Thirdly, we will determine which behaviors and attitudes will have the largest effects on reef health. Based on current research, a digraph (directed graph) was created to model the influences that different attitudes have on different measures of reef health. The digraph model was then translated into a mathematical model which simulates a pulse process to show the effect of changes in this model.

Three scenarios were developed. Influencing the general public to decrease their emission of greenhouse gasses would have positive effects on fish density, coral cover, reef framework and diversity. Human population itself was an important factor affecting reef health, and with changes in attitudes, if population decreases, reef health could be improved. Also, increasing education to influence the effect that boaters and divers have on physical damage would positively impact all reef health indicators.

Information gained from the model, as well as the information gained from determining the “populations of interest” and furthering current educational outreach has the potential to allow educators better framing of future reef programs as well as alter aspects of current programs in order to obtain maximum results in behavior and attitude change, resulting in positive effects on reef health for the future.

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