Who cares about dirty beaches? Evaluating environmental awareness and action on coastal litter in Chile

Coastal litter is a source of environmental, economic and health-related problems in many parts of the world, but local responses are not necessarily related to the severity of the impacts. In particular, it is unclear how environmental perception of community members and government bodies relate to active engagement on coastal pollution. The present study analyses the coastal litter situation and evaluates the willingness of citizens to engage at four sites (three regions of mainland Chile, and Easter Island; henceforth Rapa Nui) that feature differences in culture, economy sectors and landscape characteristics. Data on coastal litter were obtained from citizen science campaigns and assessments of large litter accumulations on beaches and rocky shores. The willingness to engage was evaluated qualitatively, considering municipal planning documents and the perception of residents on coastal litter and general waste management. We found very large quantities of litter in northern Chile, posing a hazard to marine wildlife and human health, and moderate quantities in the other regions. The region with the most severe case of coastal pollution does not feature the highest engagement, possibly a result of underlying factors such as an unsustainable economy and few possibilities for the population to connect with the natural environment. On mainland Chile, municipal engagement is low to moderate while on Rapa Nui there exist integrated waste-management strategies that address coastal pollution. Inhabitants of Rapa Nui seem to have a better conduct in the coastal environment (picking up litter, littering less), and show more engagement in waste-reduction strategies (recycling, volunteering for beach clean-ups). We suggest that the unique cultural history of the island, a landscape that allows meaningful interaction with nature and an economy based on sustainable tourism and high international visibility facilitates engagement on environmental issues. We advise managers to consider respective underlying variables, to create environments that allow contact with nature (e.g. public access to parks), and to encourage bottom-up initiatives, preferably by local actors (e.g. by promoting already engaged individuals or organisations).

Tim Kiessling, Sonia Salas, Konar Mutafoglu, Martin Thiel, Ocean & Coastal Management, Volume 137, 1 March 2017, Pages 82–95

The article


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