Public outreach

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Science deals with topics of general relevance for societies, and therefore has a strong potential to influence political decisions. The interaction between science and politics should be well balanced. Science should not dictate decisions, science should support wise decisions! On the one hand, science is funded by society and should consider itself as a service for society. On the other hand, although politics decides where the research money goes, the results should stay absolutely independent from any political interests. This is a challenge which needs permanent attention from both sides.

How can political decisions be made on the basis of sound knowledge? In a democracy, the aim must be to let a well informed public participate in political decisions. This article on public outreach is about how to reach the general public with new insights resulting from scientific work. Although it is a matter of general interest, the focus here is on coastal research.

Just an example: in the context of climate change people who live at the coast face threats such as floods caused by rising sea levels in the future. The question is how to deal with it. Are the dykes safe? Will further heightening of the dykes help to protect coastal areas? Is there a limit up to which dykes can be heightened? Will some people have to leave and move out of certain coastal regions? In what time period sea level will rise by how much? Who can give reliable answers? How can the general public be engaged in the process of decision making which is not driven just by fear but by sound planning on the basis of long term strategies? For this purpose, the public – assumed here as being non-experts on average – first of all has to be informed in a manner that facilitates understanding of complex and multi-disciplinary matters which is originally dealt with in a highly specialised scientific language.

The structure of the present article is as follows. First, it will consider what research institutions themselves can do to inform the public. Further, facilities will be illuminated that play a mediator role. This can be networks and non-governmental organisations or museums and science centres.

The majority of examples introduced below are from Germany. Other authors are invited to add facilities and experiences from other countries.

Coastal Research Institutions

Main players in coastal research are scientific institutes and authorities. Nowadays, most of them have a department for public relations and support well organised web sites that inform about their research activities and results. Although, these are in general open for everybody, their main focus is on informing professional and expert audiences. Only a very few actions are directly aiming for reaching an interested audience in the public. For example, most research institutions release some general brochures. In addition, many of them once in a while organise events that allow direct contact between the public and researchers. Whereas open days are instruments to reach the general public, school labs especially address children in order to stimulate enthusiasm for science in the educational phase. Facilities in countries facing a demographic change may also consider measures within the frame of lifelong learning activities.

Whereas the majority of marine authorities and institutions focuses on oceanography, open or deep sea research, only a very few are specialised in coastal science. In the following, some examples of coastal research institutions are given. Only those are considered that make an extra effort to contact the general public by publications, school labs and open days. Of course, the list is still incomplete and other authors are invited to work on its completion.

Deltares Unit for Marine and Coastal Systems: “Climate change, rising sea levels and vulnerable dunes are combining to put pressure on coastlines. We want to live safely behind the coastlines, so we must have good coastal and marine management. We achieve that goal by using the dynamics of nature to structure coastal areas. With sustainable coastal engineering, we deploy nature development to improve safety. We stop the advance of the sea by depositing extra sand in the foreshore and letting nature do its work. Climate change results in more extreme weather conditions. Deltares maps out the impact of this on nature, water defences, coastal engineering projects, energy supplies and transport. Technology is not the only factor involved in work on coastal areas; issues like enviremental development and public support also play a role. We bring together the various angles in an integrated approach.
Deltares areas of expertise

Deltares maintains a Public Wiki – Open Knowledge Platform Delta Technology – for sharing data, model results and tools on different topics such as flood risk management, habitats, salinisation of ground water, and many more.
Deltares public wiki

Centre for Coastal and Ocean Science and Engineering (CCOSE): “The Centre brings together a coherent group of internationally recognised research staff from across the marine physical sciences, coastal geography and coastal engineering to further Plymouth's international research reputation in these areas. The Centre is the largest Coastal Science and Engineering grouping in Europe. Our mission is to understand and predict the functioning of coastal and ocean systems in support of appropriate management of resources and activities.
Centre for Coastal and Ocean Science and Engineering

Institute of Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum in Geesthacht, Germany: “Coastal systems are under constant pressure from short and long term natural influences, including erosion or sea level rise due to climate change, and from human endeavours, for example, transportation, land use patterns, tourism, etc. As a means to identify the potential for change, sustainability, and adaptation, coastal research provides the tools, assessments, and scenarios for managing this vulnerable landscape. Research activities span both the natural and human dimensions of coastal dynamics, analysing the coastal system in global and regional contexts, conducting assessments of the state and sensitivity of the coastal system to natural and human influences, and developing scenarios of future coastal options.
Institute of Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum

The Institute of Coastal Research at HZG in cooperation with other partners from the German Marine Research Consortium (KDM) installed a Coastal Observation System for Northern and Arctic Seas (COSYNA) and provides the data on a web portal to the public: “COSYNA provides information to the scientific community, governmental authorities and the general public. Several strategies and outreach activities are used to address these different groups.

An example for a direct link between research centres and the public is given by the German network of regional climate offices initiated by the Helmholtz Association. Each office is associated to an Helmholtz Centre that focusses on a certain region in Germany. Their special aim is to provide first-hand information on regional climate change to farmers, coastal engineers, town planners and other decision makers in order to adapt their region to the effects of global climate change on particular regions. The offices facilitate direct contact and offer guidance in how to utilise regional climate scenarios for different stakeholder groups. In addition, they perform exhibitions and organise talks in order to reach the general public. The Institute of Coastal Research in Geesthacht (HZG) hosts the North German Climate Office that focuses on coastal related issues such as storms, storm surges, ocean waves, and coastal climate. Since the main aim of the climate offices is to reach the general public in a specific region, using English for communication still would be a language barrier for most people in the target group.

Networks and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

Networks and NGOs can act as a mediator between scientific institutions and the general public even though their main focus might be on a professional audience. Below, examples from The Netherlands and Germany are given. The situation in both countries is very characteristic for the role of coastal research in the academic landscape. There is plenty of institutes for oceanography, different types of engineering, earth science and so on, but hardly any for coastal research. Since it is multi-disciplinary to a high degree, it requires a certain infrastructure such as a network to represent the different facets of coastal issues.

Netherlands Centre for Coastal Research (NCK) in Delft, The Netherlands: “The Netherlands Centre for Coastal Research (NCK) is a cooperation of Dutch universities and institutes on coastal research and management. Founded in 1991, the NCK aims at increasing the quality of coastal research in The Netherlands, enhancing the exchange of knowledge to the applied research community, reinforcing coastal research and education capacities at Dutch universities and strengthening the position of Dutch coastal research in a United Europe and beyond.”

The idea to start the pan European ICZM network ENCORA supported by national networks was inspired by the success of NCK. Thus, the primarily scientific oriented NCK closely works together with EncoraNL that became the platform for communication between research, practice, policy and the public. NCK and EncoraNL are the backbone in maintaining the European encyclopedia Coastal Wiki.
Coastal Wiki

Kuratorium für Forschung im Küsteningenieurwesen (KFKI) in Hamburg, Germany: was founded by governmental administrations of the German federation and federal states as curatorship for research in coastal engineering in 1973. Besides the research, its main focus is on documentation, distribution and utilisation of research results. For this purpose, KFKI publishes a journal, releases a newsletter and maintains a library that offers many reports even online. KFKI does not yet offer an English version of its web site.

KFKI (including BSH) is the main actor in a project to establish an internet portal on Marine Data Infrastructure in Germany (MDI-DE) that helps administrations and authorities to fulfil the requirements of European directives such as INSPIRE. For example, the portal provides data and information on marine fauna, offshore wind parks, eutrophication, modelling results, remote sensing, and many more. Standardised meta data and web services facilitate searching and utilising the data., see also NOKIS - Information Infrastructure for the North and Baltic Sea

Especially in the discipline of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) science, politics, and the public are involved. In a field where many interests collide, public outreach is a matter of interest with high importance for the stakeholders involved. Therefore, independent platforms and networks play an important role as „meeting points“ that address professional as well as public audiences. In the following, some multi-national examples are presented.

- open for extensions!

The Coastal & Marine Union (EUCC): “is an association with 2700 members and member organisations in 40 countries. Founded in 1989 with the aim of promoting coastal conservation by bridging the gap between scientists, environmentalists, site managers, planners and policy makers, it has grown since then into the largest network of coastal practitioners and experts in Europe, with 15 National Branches and offices in seven countries. Our working area is Europe, the Mediterranean and Black Sea and other neighbouring regions.

Dealing with ICZM issues, EUCC participates in projects, cooperates with research institutes, releases publications and offers educational tools for the public. For the overall organisation as well as for the national branches, public outreach is a fix part of their activities. The German branch EUCC-D maintains extensive data bases on projects, events, documents, and photographs, and an online Coast-GIS in open access. EUCC-D also releases a newsletter with wide reach, and offers many publications for download. These online services provide coastal information to scientists, experts, students, and interested users. Especially, the magazine “Meer und Küste” addresses the general public, inhabitants of coastal regions as well as tourists. The printed version is distributed by tourist offices, authorities, and scientific and educational institutions with great approval.

Wadden Sea Forum (WSF) in Wilhelmshaven, Germany: “The Wadden Sea Forum (WSF) is an independent platform of stakeholders from Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands to contribute to an advanced and sustainable development of the trilateral Wadden Sea Region. In particular, this means integrating specific cross-sectoral and transboundary strategies, actions and techniques which are environmentally sound, economically viable and socially acceptable!

Working groups focus on issues such as ICZM, Shipping & Harbour, Energy, Industry and Infrastructure (E I I), Agriculture, Fisheries, and Tourism. Moreover, the WSF founded a non-profit society which is even open to the public. WSF also publishes brochures and reports. The communication within the network is in English. However, WSF undertakes the effort to translate some of their publications even into all the three languages of the countries involved.

Museums and Science Centres

Even though coastal institutes and networks undertake numerous efforts to provide information on coastal research, they mainly address professionals and certain groups of stakeholders. Facilities such as science centres and museums can play an important role by offering a bridge to the general public.

Most museums and information centres offer educational programmes that complement school curricula. Compared to most information sources that are available in the web or as printed material, museums and information centres provide the great advantage of connecting a theoretical approach with experiments and handling. This facilitates a deeper and more sustainable understanding of the issues of concern.

The European Network of Science Centres and Museums

Science centres and museums provide a common ground where scientists and the public can meet and discuss controversial and contemporary issues about science and technology, a crucial element for the economic and social development of Europe. A global survey of more than 180 research and evaluation studies concluded that visits to science centres and museums contribute to changing attitudes towards science and technology, increasing young people’s motivation to choose science as a career.
European Network of Science Centres and Museums

Science centres and museums usually focus on phenomenons in natural science and techniques. Only few of them are concerned with coastal issues, some more exist on marine or maritime affairs and shipping. Since they mainly address the general public in their countries, their web sites and printed material often is available only in the national language. In the following, some examples are given.

National Park Centres

The Wadden Sea centre in Ribe, Denmark, is the official visitors centre for the Danish part of the national park. It provides information on the dynamic landscape of the Wadden Sea, on storm surges, and on migrating birds.

Naturgewalten Sylt in List is located at the northernmost tip of the island of Sylt. The National Park centre provides experience and information on “meteorological events, life in the Wadden Sea and dunes, coastal protection and renewable energies.

The Multimar Wattforum Centre in Tönningis the information centre for the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park. An interactive exhibition of whales, mudflats and world heritage provides numerous aquariums with unique insights and experiences, impressions and views.

The Wadden Sea visitor centre in Wilhelmshaven is the main information and education centre of the National Park in Lower Saxony. It aims at promoting the national park and its protection efforts for the unique ecosystem of the Wadden Sea.

The National Park Centre Königsstuhl in Sassnitz, Germany offers nature experience and information about the chalk cliffs on the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea.

Natureum Darßer Ort is located on the peninsula Darß within the Baltic Sea. The information centre highlights the characteristics and habitats of the National Park “Vorpommersche Boddenlandschaft” and offers a great view from the top of a lighthouse. Natureum Darßer Ort is affiliated with the Meeresmuseum in Stralsund.

Coastal information centres

Natureum Niederelbe in Balje, Germany, is located very close to the mouth of river Elbe. The exhibition provides information about the estuarine landscape elements, habitats and life including human activities. In addition, the centre offers boat trips and the experience of bird watching in direct vicinity to the Wadden Sea.

Maritime museums

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall offers experience in a „Tidal Zone“ explaining the effects and causes of the tides and providing insights into underwater life in a virtual harbour basin.

The Maritime Museum Rotterdamintroduces into the world of one of the largest harbours in Europe. Visitors learn about various types of ships, working in the port, navigation and how products are transported by ship from all over the world to the Netherlands.

The MEERESMUSEUMin the Old Town of Stralsund is situated in the former Dominican Monastery St. Katharinen. The exhibitions communicate the topics marine sciences, marine biology, fishery as well as fauna and flora of the Baltic Sea.”

The International Maritime Museum in Hamburg provides on nine floors precious exhibits, model ships, and paintings that document 3000 years of history in shipping. One floor is dedicated to marine research.

The German Shipping Museum in Bremerhaven exhibits model and real ships, nautical instruments, arms, and paintings that document peaceful and warlike times in the German shipping history.

The private museum Speicher IX in Bremen offers oral history and exhibits, documenting 120 years of history in Bremen's free-harbour area.

The Fisheries and Maritime Museumoffers exploring and learning about man and the sea in the displays on fisheries, navigation, and nature below the sea surface, watching seals in the sealarium and the attractive fish and attention-grabbing animals in the aquaria.”

In the Maritime Museum & Aquarium Göteborgeveryone can find out more about the relationship between sea and man. About the marine environment and its life forms. And about the port city in a changing world. Visit the Aquarium or one of the exhibitions, try out the exciting ship simulator.”

See also

The main author of this article is Häse, Clivia
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Häse, Clivia (2020): Public outreach. Available from [accessed on 25-09-2023]