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Blue Habits Phase 2: Motivating Traveler Actions for Ocean Conservation

We're working to transform nature-based tourism into an even greater force for good.

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The world’s oceans face numerous challenges—from species and habitat loss, to pollution, climate change, and overfishing—that are accelerating at unprecedented rates. At Oceanic Society, we work to improve ocean health by deepening the connection between people and nature to address the root cause of its decline—human behavior.

Since 1969 we have led nature-based tourism programs worldwide in pursuit of our mission. We use travel, in part, to motivate people to become better ocean stewards in their daily lives. Small individual actions—minimizing plastic waste, reducing carbon emissions, and purchasing sustainable seafood—can have profound impacts on global ocean health when taken to scale. Yet until recently Oceanic Society has not taken a rigorous, data-driven, and scalable approach to behavior change, nor have we effectively measured the impacts of nature-based tourism on the behaviors of our travelers.

Phase 1 of our Blue Habits program evaluated the potential of Oceanic Society’s whale watching cruises as a venue for motivating lasting pro-ocean behavior.

Beyond Oceanic Society, we believe that the nature-based tourism industry is a powerful and yet vastly underused platform for motivating pro-ocean behavior change. Through Blue Habits, we aim to change that, and we've teamed up with researchers from Stanford University's Graduate School of Education and Woods Institute for the Environment to launch phase 2 of our Blue Habits program.


People need healthy oceans. Oceans absorb heat, generate more than half of our atmosphere's oxygen, regulate the world's weather patterns, and more than a billion people depend on fish for their primary source of protein. An estimated 350 million jobs are linked to the oceans, and international trade in ocean products involves 85 nations and is worth $102 billion per year. Oceans also provide immeasurable financial, inspirational, and aesthetic benefits to people.

Yet the oceans are in trouble. 90 percent of fisheries are fully fished or overfished, and stocks of large fish like tuna and swordfish have declined by 90 percent since 1950. Climate change is bleaching coral reefs worldwide, and millions of tons of plastic are choking sea life and causing systemic problems. The oceans have reached a tipping point.

Before and after a coral bleaching event in American Samoa. © The Ocean Agency /  XL Catlin Seaview Survey

All ocean problems share a common cause: human behavior. In short, people put too much in and take too much out of the seas. Our solution is simple: change the human behaviors that damage ocean health, and the oceans will continue to thrive.

By developing science-based tools, techniques, and digital solutions that help nature-based tourism providers effectively motivate and measure individual behavior changes, we aim to “move the needle” in ways that measurably improve ocean health and reduce the hazards that humans pose to oceans over time.

Specifically, we aim to motivate engagement, activate pro-ocean behavior, and build and sustain a pro-ocean community to address persistent, major threats in three areas where we feel we can have the most impact and leverage across the tourism community: 1) pollution (plastics & toxins); 2) climate change (greenhouse gas emissions); 3) sustainable fisheries and aquaculture (seafood choices).

How We Are Helping

The sustainable travel industry can play a vastly more important role in improving ocean health. Much emphasis has been placed on the role of tourism in social development, economic sustainability, and site-based environmental protection, but the vast potential of tourism to impact long-lasting pro-environmental consumer behaviors has been ignored. Social science research shows that nature travel creates spikes in environmental knowledge, interest, and motivation that can lead to lasting behavior changes, thereby making nature travelers a perfect audience for transformational change for the oceans.

Collaborating with behavior and design experts from Stanford University, we are working to identify, develop, and test tools and techniques for behavior change, encourage their adoption by travel operators worldwide, and monitor the individual and collective impacts in quantifiable terms. Our own travel programs will serve as a testing ground, and we will then work to boldly amplify this impact through partnerships within the nature tourism industry to ultimately reach a global audience in the tens of millions and leverage transformational industry changes to improve ocean health.

In future phases, we will work to adapt this methodology to target consumers in a wider variety of contexts, and to scale Blue Habits through strategic partnerships.


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